Cities across the United States are joining the global fight against climate change by adopting measures that reduce their carbon footprint. Zero-emission electric transit buses in the USA are an important part of that initiative.
Many companies are cognizant of this fact and are thus preparing for a surge in production as they anticipate a huge uptick in the market. Not only are American electric transit buses a good choice for avoiding the use of fossil fuels but they can also significantly reduce costs and improve air quality.
Let’s delve into the current state of transportation in the USA and the potential benefits and drawbacks of incorporating electric transit buses into the public transportation system.
Transportation System in the USA
The transportation system in the USA heavily relies on fossil fuels such as gasoline and diesel. In 2020, 27% of emissions in the country were attributed to the transportation sector alone.
Additionally, over 90% of the fuel used was petroleum based which explains its significant contribution to carbon emissions and air pollution. However, several policies have been proposed to tackle this situation.
- Fuel switching to reduce emissions
- Revisiting the existing design, materials, and technology of fuel systems in vehicles to improve fuel efficiency
- Outlining better operating practices for civilians, freight, as well as the airline industry
But is it enough? While more environment-friendly initiatives are anticipated to help a lot, electric transit buses aren’t a catch-all solution. According to Ian Tiseo, Energy and Environment Researcher at Statista, “Between 2021 and 2025, transportation-related emissions in the United States are projected to rise from 1.73 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide (MtCO2) to 1.81 MtCO2.
Emissions from transportation are expected to decrease in the following years, dropping to 1.77 MtCO2 by 2036. However, projections show that CO2 levels will begin to rise again, and will reach an estimated 1.88 MtCO2 by 2050.”
The Benefits and Challenges of Using Electric Buses for Public Transit
Regardless of analysts’ projections, the many upsides of electric buses still make them viable long-term alternatives when it comes to the future of public transport. Here are some of their benefits followed by challenges.
Long-term Cost Efficiency
While the initial cost of electric buses is considerable and more expensive than conventional public buses, the former’s lower maintenance charges and fuel efficiency over their lifetime are remarkable.
When deployed as public transit solutions, electric buses can lower long-term state spending. At the same time, their adoption can lead to lower healthcare costs due to air pollution and reduced expenses on fuel imports.
Sustainable Charging for Power Grids
Electricity TOU (Time of Use) rates differ according to the cost of generation and demands throughout the day. However, since electric buses can be charged at night when electricity is much cheaper, they can be sustainable solutions that won’t overload the power grid.
Elimination of Greenhouse Gases
They are also useful in eliminating the greenhouse gasses that are emitted due to the burning of fossil fuels.
Better Rider Experience
Electric buses are also a great choice for public transit as they provide a better rider experience. This is because they ensure smooth, comfortable, and quiet rides.
Can Be a Source of Emergency Power
Electric fleets are also great at providing emergency power support due to their large backup capacities. They can be used as power sources for the underprivileged in certain areas due to their easy mobility. In addition, electric buses can also be used in case of natural disasters as independent sources of power supply.
Lack of Charging Infrastructure
The required infrastructure for charging large electric fleets is still insufficient in the USA. While this challenge can easily be surmounted with government and public support, the country has yet to roll out large-scale electric vehicle charging stations on a national level.
If the production of electric vehicles outpaces the availability of charging infrastructure, electric transit buses may not be able to recharge their batteries efficiently. The additional load on power grids can also make it difficult to simultaneously recharge electric vehicles while providing electricity to homes and businesses.
Software solutions like those offered by Ampcontrol can greatly optimize and manage EV charging. With its intelligent charging technology, fleet operators and charging stations can reduce their energy costs and automate charging decisions without overloading the power grid.
Frequent Battery Replacements
EV batteries are estimated to last between 12 and 15 years, however, this can be significantly shortened by hot climates and other factors that degrade them.
These three challenges are legitimate and need to be addressed. But in light of electric buses’ many benefits, including their all-important ability to limit carbon emissions, it is in everyone’s best interest to overcome these difficulties so that we can live more sustainably.
Safer Electric Buses When Combined With Self-Driving Technology
One of the most promising applications of electric transit buses is its integration with self-driving technology. Combining the nascent technologies of electric-powered transportation and self-guided vehicles, they offer even more benefits when their features are made available in one machine.
Because autonomous or driverless electric vehicles are credited with enhanced passenger safety, electric buses that are also autonomous have the potential to reduce the number of car crashes that are due to human error while providing sustainable modes of transport.
Human drivers are limited by their five senses, prone to distracted driving practices (smoking, texting, talking on their phones), and may be impaired by alcohol, fatigue, and emotions. Meanwhile, driverless electric buses are much more reliable in terms of performance and can thus be safer. Equipped with cameras and sensors, they can navigate roads while anticipating the terrain ahead, surpassing the capabilities of human drivers.
Forward-thinking groups such as Michigan State University already have operating prototypes. Their electric, autonomous bus has been plying a 2.5-mile route since November 2021. The success of the project and its operations are providing valuable information for the future of transportation.
The benefits of electric transit buses far outweigh the challenges that any new mode of transportation presents. At the very least, they can limit the transportation industry’s sizable emissions’ while providing a better rider experience. But if they’re combined with autonomous navigation, they may even reduce road accidents that are caused by human error.
By enacting the right policies and investing in the necessary infrastructure, we can unlock the full potential of electric buses and create a cleaner, healthier, and more equitable future for all.