Electric Cars are Great, Electric Buses may be Better

The news in recent months has been highlighting Tesla, from the ban from New Jersey to the bidding to get a new Tesla manufacturing plant. Ideally, electric cars would be across the nation, and across the world. But with over 80% of the United States population living in urban areas, the focus may need to shift to improving the eco-friendliness of public transportation.

With such a large percentage of the population living in urban areas, putting a focus on low-to-no emission public transportation is key.

Last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association, buses hauled 5.36 billion passengers. Buses still account for more rides each year than heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail combined—and for about half of all public transit trips. On top of that, we need to step back and look at the vehicle itself. Nationwide, city buses averaged about 4.71 miles per gallon, according to the National Transit Database. These buses travel between 40,000 and 60,000 miles a year, amounting to between 188,000 and 283,000 gallons of gas. Being able to move buses toward electricity will reduce transportation cost greatly. And if that electricity comes from renewable resources, there is almost a complete disconnection between the bus and fossil fuels.

Through the combination of venture capitalists and the United States Government, companies are able to find the funding to investigate and develop ideas like these. Proterra, a South Carolina-based manufacturer with Silicon Valley ties, has already put a few dozen electric buses on the road, with the promise of more to come. Proterra has been developing their idea of the electric bus for over 10 years. Their current design has a 40-foot bus made of light materials, with a fast-charging docking station that would let buses fuel mid-route in 10 minutes or less.

Proterra is trying to aid a transition in transportation with design and manufacture of zero-emission vehicles.

Fiscally, the real benefit of electric vehicles comes from operating costs. Over the 12-year lifetime of a vehicle, a diesel bus can consume between $500,000 and $600,000 of fuel, while it would consume about $80,000 worth of electricity.

In Switzerland, Ecole Polytechnique Federale de Lausanne (EPFL) is developing the TOSA bus system. TOSA buses get recharged via a robotic arm that connects the roof-mounted bus batteries to an electric charging system mounted on the bus stop. The buses can hold up to 133 people and the “flash charging” provides enough juice in a 15-second charge to get the bus to the next electrified stop without delaying the route.

Now the transformation of public transportation needs to begin. With an increasingly compact population, there are obvious benefits to focusing on reducing emissions from the buses that have been a reliable form of transportation for decades.


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