In The News
Committed to Sustainable Mobility Solutions
Published by American Public Transportation Association Passenger Transport
BY DAVID WARREN
Director of Sustainable Transportation
When a public transit system approaches New Flyer for sustainable, clean technology, how can you help?
At New Flyer, we believe our job is to provide the right solution for our customers. We offer multiple powertrain combinations, from diesel-electric hybrid, to compressed natural gas, to battery-electric and now fuel-cell-electric. We can discuss with operators the optimum approach, rather than pushing only one solution on them.
Balancing all the factors of advancing clean technology requires thoughtful dialogue with agencies and with industry leaders, always keeping in mind that we must deliver the best value for taxpayer dollars that fund these purchases. That’s one major reason why we developed our Vehicle Innovation Center (VIC) in Anniston, AL, which is dedicated to advancing bus and coach technology. The VIC is designed to help agency leaders, operators and technical teams consider the latest technology solutions and infrastructure requirements needed to make the right decision in clean technology.
How would you describe the pluses and minuses associated with electric vs. diesel technology for buses?
New Flyer of America has tens of thousands of diesel buses in service today; diesel buses are the backbone of most large public transit agencies because they are durable, adaptable and cost-effective. But we know agencies are readying for the transition to electric in the future. Aside from zero emissions, electric buses run very quiet and can have a lower maintenance cost over a 12-year lifespan. I think you’ll find that most studies done on well-to-wheel emissions have found that—even factoring in the emissions from power generation—electric buses are beneficial and, as renewables continue to grow as an energy source, so will the benefits.
Electric vehicles of all types do have a few unique challenges. A long-range electric bus has a charge time that greatly eclipses the time to refuel a diesel tank. They can suffer reduced range between recharges in extreme weather—the most severe being sub-freezing temperatures. In some situations, the energy consumed to heat the bus will greatly eclipse the energy needed to propel the bus on a city route. Electric buses can be promoted and sold with impressive range shown, but realistic, day-to-day use (involving full seated/standing capacity and air conditioning units operating at maximum levels) will have significant impact on battery consumption and, thereby, will decrease range accordingly.
Further, battery-electric buses require considerable upfront planning, investment and management of the charging infrastructure process—from build to launch. Whether on-route or in-depot charging, the infrastructure needed to charge electric buses requires careful time, consideration, power (grid) and multiple stakeholders to bring to life and shouldn’t be understated.
We fully expect today’s state-of-the-art electric bus challenges can be overcome over time with rapid advancements in electrification technology. Until then, these challenges can’t be overlooked when planning an electric bus system.
What is your relationship with utility companies and associated organizations?
We are an active participant with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), which comprises electric utilities, businesses, government agencies and regulators engaged in the generation, delivery or use of electricity. Most recently, New Flyer was a presenter on its electric bus technology at the 2018 International Electrification Conference in Long Beach, CA.
The collaboration with EPRI stakeholders is extremely valuable to advance smart mobility and charging strategies that reduce grid loads and promote the deployment of standardized charging. This is just one example of our industry’s involvement in helping develop efficient mobility solutions and industry standards that ultimately will benefit transit agencies and communities across North America.
It is understood that the initial cost of electric buses can be higher than that of diesel, but then savings are realized over time.
It’s easy for bus manufacturers to promise savings over a 12-year lifespan of an electric bus versus its higher upfront cost. Public transit leaders and elected officials have heard a lot of similar promises before; the challenge is that they are the ones on the line if those savings don’t materialize. For example, some of those savings come in maintenance, but how do you judge whether an untested platform will stand up when it hasn’t even been in service for 12 years?
Again, it is critical to evaluate the realistic, day-to-day use and demands on an electric bus. We’ve been building buses with electric motors for over 50 years; we know what it takes to engineer and support a bus that meets the demands of everyday use. Taking time upfront will avoid frustration down the road—which we have unfortunately seen in our industry already.
What is New Flyer’s internal policy re: sustainability?
The essence of sustainability is protecting the environment and preserving our resources for future generations. At New Flyer, it starts with earning what’s known as the “triple ISO.” We are the first and only manufacturer in North America to be certified in all three ISO certifications for quality (ISO 9001), environmental impact (ISO 14001) and safety (OSHAS 18001). For New Flyer stakeholders, what that means in our manufacturing environment is that we’re committed to reducing the environmental impact of our operations and ensuring our employees have a safe work environment. Further, we continue to review and improve our sustainability footprint to improve our communities and anticipate the introduction of new initiatives in 2019.
What do you foresee as the biggest challenges and opportunities for sustainability in public transportation over the next three to five years?
There’s great momentum and energy in sustainable public transit. We see cities around the world pushing for transit that works better, smarter and cleaner, with groundbreaking technology that we’re excited to be a part of. The challenges lie in keeping the momentum going and ensuring that public transit remains a key focus. It’s a lot easier to add housing to urban centers than building (or rebuilding) new roads and infrastructure in existing road space—so industry collaboration will be essential to developing connected, efficient, multimodal transportation (or “Smart Mobility”) for Smart Cities of the future.
Joining the Shared Mobility Principles for Livable Cities was just one of our many steps reiterating our commitment to sustainable mobility solutions. As a signatory to the initiative, we are working collaboratively with city leaders, public transit agencies and industry stakeholders to identify mobility solutions that alleviate emissions and traffic congestion in major cities.
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