NJ Transit’s first electric bus starts real world testing with riders on board this month

The ceremony and photos are over and NJ Transit’s first electric bus, #22901, unveiled last week, will join the fleet later this month, recognizable by its all-green body.

The reality is that this bus and its seven sisters, due to be delivered by the end of the year, will get more attention than regular buses. They are rolling laboratories that will provide NJ Transit with real-world data needed to determine how the first 100 battery-electric buses will be deployed and what future EV usage will be.

And it has to happen with drivers on board to see how well the battery buses work.

“We’ll see how they work, this information is important to expand to NJ Transit’s metropolitan bus routes,” said Kevin Corbett, CEO of NJ Transit.

Computer chip supply chain issues affecting the auto industry have slowed implementation of the electric bus pilot program, said Mike Kilcoyne, general manager of bus operations at NJ Transit.

The first bus was expected in June, Corbett said, after the agency opened the $3.23 million charging infrastructure at the Newton bus garage in Camden last March. The agency rented a demonstrator electric bus to test the charging equipment.

After being used to train police and first responders, and then bus drivers, the electric bus is scheduled to go into service the week of October 24, Kilcoyne said

Battery range between charges is the biggest factor in where electric buses will go. The buses are equipped with the largest 5,000-kilowatt battery that manufacturer New Flyer makes, Kilcoyne said

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“A diesel bus can travel more than 300 miles on a single tank of fuel. (an electric vehicle) will travel 150 to 175 miles depending on the weather,” he said.

Weather, including how often the bus heating system must be used, also affects battery life, as cold weather affects battery performance.

“If you’re using cabin heat and it’s cold outside, it takes as much (energy) to heat it as it does to power it,” he said.

Data from running bus routes in the real world will be collected, Corbett said, including distance between charges, which will help inform the agency on how bus routes can be redesigned. Stop-and-go traffic performance is also evaluated.

Since electric buses will not replace diesel buses one-for-one, the redesign of bus routes is part of the deployment strategy. NJ Transit has three bus route redesigns underway.

“It poses some planning challenges because now you have to plan (bus) trips to meet the minimum that the bus is going to get,” Kilcoyne said. “You can’t count on it to do 175 miles because there are certain days when it won’t.”

That makes electrics better suited for city bus routes, where they will more effectively reduce air pollution in cities that consistently get poor air quality ratings, said Shawn LaTourette, commissioner for the state Environmental Protection Department.

“There’s a lot of research showing not only the feasibility of this approach, but the practice of it, especially where they have shorter city routes with fewer miles,” LaTourette said.

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“Urban routes take a bit of time to get through because they have a lot of stops, but you keep doing it and you’re going to use the batteries that move the bus the longest,” he said.

NJ Transit’s second pilot program will be in Newark, with a charging system for Hilton’s bus garage in the pipeline.

NJ Transit has been studying electric bus deployment and plans by other transit companies, Kilcoyne said.

“We looked at other agencies’ programs to shape ours,” he said

NJ Transit’s approach to using electric buses on urban routes is similar to that of other transit companies. AC Transit’s plan in Oakland, California, calls for the deployment of battery-electric buses on routes that “harness their efficiency and minimize the impact of the restrictions.”

AC Transit’s plan is to use “depot-charged” battery electric buses on shorter urban routes and route-charged battery electric buses on medium-distance routes with stops at a transit center where the buses can be charged quickly.

Not only can NJ Transit’s first electric bus charge by “plugging in,” it also has roof contacts that allow it to charge “on the go” by lowering something that looks like the electric pantographs trains use to charge overhead wires from a charging station at a terminal, Kilcoyne said.

It remains to be determined if this technology could be deployed. The most likely locations would be locations NJ Transit owns where buses could moor and charge between trips, such as: B. the Hoboken Terminal, said Kilcoyne. Port Authority officials plan to equip the new bus terminal in Midtown Manhattan with charging infrastructure for electric buses.

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Park and Rides have also been used by other transit systems such as Washington’s King County Metro for en-route charging.

Similar to New Jersey, the transit company’s bus schedules meet the state government’s broader climate protection and emission reduction goals. They also mentioned that there is a trade-off between launching a battery electric bus program and keeping up with technological developments.

“We need to act as quickly and as consciously as possible,” LaTourette said. “The more of these buses we use, the better. These buses will serve us for a long time.”

With advancing battery technology and shorter charging times, the bus fleet could move in that direction, he said. Sun Mobility, an Indian company, has developed bus batteries that can be swapped out in three minutes to solve the charging and range problem.

“Better battery technology… faster charging technology will evolve over time,” LaTourette said. “That’s no reason not to move forward vigorously. We can adopt this new technology in phases as existing diesel buses reach the end of their useful life.”

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Larry Higgs can be reached at [email protected].

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