Benefits and Implementation Challenges of Transit Electrification
The number of transit battery electric buses (BEBs) currently on order or operating in the U.S. grew 112 percent from 2018 to 2021. As of 2021, more than 1,300 zero-emission transit buses were delivered or awarded to U.S. transit agencies, although this encompasses only 2 percent of the U.S. transit bus fleet. Similarly, only 1,800 electric school buses (ESBs) are operating or have been ordered by school districts, meaning that around 95 percent of the approximately 500,000 school buses nationwide still run on diesel fuel.
Battery Electric Buses in Baton RougeCapital Area Transit System (CATS) in Baton Rouge, LA has experienced many benefits and challenges since incorporating BEBs into their fleet. The agency has received cost savings despite only transitioning six of their 60 vehicles to EVs. A primary challenge has been finding staff with experience in EV maintenance, so the agency has focused on training new and existing automotive mechanic staff. In planning for future expansions of EVs in their fleet, CATS will not be able to transition to a fully electric fleet, as they need on-demand vehicles in emergency situations, such as for disaster response and evacuation.
Electric buses, including BEBs, have benefits for transit agencies, as well as the surrounding communities in which the vehicles operate.
Electric buses are more fuel efficient than diesel buses and have fewer moving parts, potentially decreasing fuel and maintenance costs for transit agencies.
At the same time, the surrounding communities will experience environmental benefits, as discussed in Community Benefits for electric mobility in general. Electric buses operate more quietly, producing less noise pollution, and have zero harmful tailpipe emissions, which will improve local air quality. Studies on school buses have shown the air quality can be worse inside the bus than outside of it, which is particularly harmful for children, as research shows that childhood asthma and related health issues are worsened by air pollution and vehicle emissions. The environmental benefits from electric transit buses and school buses are especially important for communities overburdened by pollution.
Planning for electric buses and charging infrastructure is complex and requires different decision-making than diesel bus deployment, so transit agencies need to invest resources upfront to plan appropriately. The adoption of plug-in, conductive charging, or inductive charging electric buses by transit agencies is not a simple decision of substituting a diesel bus for an electric one and does have challenges to consider, including planning for upfront costs and staff capabilities to operate and maintain these assets. Additionally, operational challenges include variability of battery range and electricity rate structures. For more information, see Transit Planning.
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Benefits and Implementation Challenges of Urban Mobility Electrification