Overcome 3 common barriers to EV school bus adoption.

3 common barriers to EV school bus adoption
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Electrifying your pupil transportation fleet is easier than you may realize.

School bus fleet electrification has gained momentum over the past several years. Despite these vehicles’ high up-front costs, more school districts are adopting battery-powered buses to support green initiatives and reduce long-term costs during each vehicle’s lifespan. Despite the rise in popularity, the road to electric school buses outnumbering ICE-powered buses remains long.

According to the World Resources Institute, “The United States’ 480,000 school buses account for 80% of all buses nationwide, yet less than 1% are electrified.” Adoption comes with growing pains and added, unexplored expenses outside of the electric bus’s sticker price. For many districts, the move toward full school bus fleet electrification is in the early stages. That said, enough partnerships and smart fleet management technologies have been established—and proven capable of—easing the process. Not to mention easing the financial stretch of adopting expensive technology and building its charging infrastructure.

With those resources and expertise available, more school bus fleets are moving forward at their pace, with less uncertainty. For other fleets looking to adopt EVs, three common barriers exist but are less daunting than may be initially believed.

Barrier 1: Cost and complexity of building charging infrastructure and management

Even a single battery-powered bus requires charging infrastructure that’s built where (and how) based on your operational needs. Determining scale—how much infrastructure is needed now and how much you’ll need for future electrified buses—complicates calculating the upfront costs of building your EV bus charging stations. Then, once your charging stations are in place, you’ll also need efficient charge management to keep costs down while making sure each bus has enough battery power to complete its assigned routes.

Fleets trying to figure it out on their own are vulnerable to making costly mistakes such as choosing inconvenient charging locations, wrong charging capacity and not allowing for future expansion. And school fleets are understandably risk averse.

The solution: Experts who specialize in infrastructures that fit budgets and plans

Set your initial EV charging infrastructure and charge management system (CMS) up for success the first time.

When you evaluate leaders in school fleet electrification, look for those with deep knowledge and experience, and the ability to support any size fleet and type of electric bus. They’ll have the specialized expertise to plan and build around immediate needs and scale to support your future EV buses. Working with an expert in this type of utility makes it far easier to manage through infrastructure complexities like new power demand lead times which can take months, even years.

Once your infrastructure and CMS are up and running, they’ll also know how to minimize charging costs while ensuring each electric bus has enough power to safely run its route.

Build a cost-effective infrastructure by working with school bus fleet electrification partners who will:

  • reduce costs, complexity and risks associated with this new, high-value technology
  • plan and implement an appropriate infrastructure for current electric buses and future EV expansion
  • provide the right chargers based on bus yard size, parking layout and vehicle charging connections
  • manage the charging, scheduling, services and costs for you to optimize ongoing expenses

That means dedicated project management that handles infrastructure design, equipment procurement, contract negotiation and construction oversight. Plus, you’ll benefit from assistance with selecting the right electric school buses for your fleet, area and routes.

Also look for partnerships with a smart fleet management provider whose OEM-grade telematics technology already supports leading electric school bus manufacturers. And that provides the data school fleet electrification companies need to optimize your EV’s charge management strategies. They’ll need to know how each EV bus is operating and charging, too.

Charging infrastructure costs can be included in the grant process, if you’re exploring those avenues of funding. Plus, some customers and OEMs wrap telematics hardware as part of the bus grant funding, which can further increase your ROI on new fleet tech.

Barrier 2: Managing electric and ICE-powered school buses side by side

One bus, two buses, every bus in the barn: No matter how many electric school buses you adopt, you’re still managing one fleet. Optimizing bus and route utilization, student ridership, driver availability and vehicle health across your fleet requires looking across every bus, of every type, in your fleet. Treating EV buses separately creates inefficiencies that touch how effectively your entire fleet is managed, utilized and optimized.

The solution: A smart fleet management platform that embraces every bus

When you evaluate leaders in smart fleet electrification, look for a provider who partners with an established, proven leader in smart fleet management. They’ll help you manage your fleet as a complete unit, on a single platform that effectively:

  • captures EV-specific insights such as charge data, trip history and battery power for range awareness
  • displays a seamless view of EV and ICE-powered bus data and tracking for efficient monitoring
  • provides comprehensive visibility into each vehicle’s activity, status, usage and trip history
  • provides vehicle and battery data for charge management
  • supports charging providers in gathering data for optimizing station installation and charging

Also look for an electric vehicle inspection reporting system that features a configuration for ICE-powered buses and one for EV school buses. Different components, different moving parts, one driver app. But you’ll still have a single platform from which to access results, defects and records.

Managing your EV school buses with the right smart fleet management platform provides data and insights that may also help substantiate your claim to qualify for the EPA Clean School Bus Program. For more information, read our online article, Add telematics to your EPA-funded EV school buses.

Barrier 3: Electric bus performance, range and power limitations

The mileage gap between an ICE-powered bus and an electric bus is wide. On average, a diesel school bus gets approximately 6 MPG and can travel up to 500 miles on a single 80-gallon tank. A propane school bus gets approximately 4.5 MPG and can travel up to 300 miles per 67-gallon tank. All with a quick, 10-minute fuel stop.

A typical electric school bus will get up to 20 MPGe and has a range of approximately 100 miles per charge, depending on type, route and manufacturer.

Limited range on a battery that takes hours to charge means that school districts, especially large ones, need to:

  • plan EV routes carefully to avoid stranding students
  • use existing trip data to ensure every bus can fulfill planned routes
  • verify EV school bus batteries are sufficiently charged before every route
  • know the real-time state of charge levels across their electric fleet
  • monitor battery power consumed by unnecessary turns, stops, detours and backtracking
  • accommodate mid-day charging if cold temperatures impact battery power
  • schedule charging based on bus depot location, routing and availability

A healthy range of battery use is between 20 and 95 percent state of charge (SoC). Before deploying it for the day’s route, fleet managers need to know how far that EV school bus can travel without overtaxing the battery. Their goal being to maximize the battery’s lifespan and minimize its replacement costs—which can be approximately 40 percent of the bus’s total cost if not covered by warranty.

Few fleet managers have on-staff experts to implement these vehicles and optimize their utilization. And that’s okay because that’s what industry leaders are for.

The solution: Full fleet operational visibility

Fleet electrification and charging providers who work with the same smart fleet management provider can use the same EV bus data to manage your charging infrastructure. The clearer their view into each electric school bus in your fleet, the more effectively that provider can ensure your buses are charged. And work with you to make the most of each EV bus’s range.

Fleet electrification and charging partners implement, optimize and manage your charging infrastructure. Electrification partners and charging providers who use a full-fleet smart fleet management solution can:

  • understand and make the most of each bus’s range
  • minimize the recharging costs for your electric school buses
  • effectively manage fuel costs for ICE-powered school buses
  • optimize each route to minimize fuel and charge usage
  • monitor bus real-time state of charge in motion or at rest

When bus routes and schedules are optimized, so is per-vehicle charging and fuel consumption across the board. Optimize routes and schedules to make the most of each EV’s range—all as part of the whole school bus fleet. Watch every vehicle’s movement, history and activities on one platform. And maximize range based on each EV’s state of charge to avoid deploying a bus that strands its riders because it ran out of battery power.

Lean on industry leaders to remove barriers so you can move forward.

Uncertainty comes with adopting electric school buses, even if you’re adopting only one or two at a time. But you don’t need to have the answers or expertise. Industry leaders are partnering up to solve these problems for you, as well as support you at every stage of adoption, infrastructure building and expansion.

Additional helpful reading

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