Laketran and the Future of Electric Public Transportation

Green Energy Ohio’s Statewide Electric Vehicle Tour made a stop at Laketran’s Frank J. Polivka Transit Center on the Lakeland Community College Campus in Kirtland on June 7.  The attraction?  A new 35 foot ALL ELECTRIC bus!

Unfortunately, in this era of supply chain disruptions, the bus was still in Alabama, waiting for a few crucial cables.  The event went on, regardless, with the numerous EV’s on display and even some dealership EV’s available for test drives.  GEO leaders, EV advocates, public transportation leaders, and local politicians gave talks espousing the future of electric transportation.

Those of us eager to see the electric bus did not have to wait long.  On July 29, Laketran hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony to formally introduce the transit center, recognize its namesake Frank Polivka, and let everyone see their first electric bus.

The 35-foot New Flyer Xcelsior Charge was parked beneath a large pantograph which eventually was lowered to demonstrate its on-route charging capabilities.   This allows the bus to run continuously, with virtually unlimited range.  In just six minutes of rapid charging the bus can proceed for about 90 minutes on its typical route.

For you motorheads, the bus comes with a 160kW motor which equates to a mere 214 horsepower.  Not impressed?   Well, those of us in the EV world know that it’s not about the HP, it’s the torque. And that’s where the electric motor shines as a tool for vehicle propulsion.  The Xcelsior cranks out over twice the torque of a large V-8 engine.  And like all modern electric vehicles, it delivers that torque at the low speeds where you need it most. 

Ideal for start/stop driving (think buses, school buses, mail trucks, garbage trucks), electric vehicles often are rated for better mileage in city driving conditions than highway driving – the opposite of their internal combustion counterparts.  Part of the reason for this lies in the fact that most modern electric vehicles are equipped with ‘regenerative braking’.  This puts the energy required to slow down or stop the vehicle right back into the vehicle batteries.

The Laketran bus has a 213kWhr battery bank that gives it an absolute range of typically around 100 miles, even without on-route charging capability.   Also impressive are the ABB battery chargers.  The automated 450kW charger pushes high voltage, high current DC electricity into the bus via large copper bars on the bottom of a pantograph that is lowered and presses down against similar bars on the top of the bus.  Laketran expects to have ten buses in service by the end of this year. 

And the cost?   It is definitely an investment, because battery-operated buses are not cheap.  But as with electric cars and solar panels, you need to do all the math!  The price tag was just over $800,000 per bus, about 40 percent more of a typical 35-foot diesel transit bus.  Laketran purchased 10 buses, converting 60% of its transit bus fleet to electric.  They’ll have six on-route charging stations located at four sites throughout the county, totaling about $1.8 million. But a battery-electric buss can save up to $400,000 in fuel costs over a 12-year life span, providing up to an 8% fuel savings. With no traditional engine, transmission, intake or exhaust, Laketran expects to save at least $125,000 in maintenance costs over the lifetime of a bus. Together, the fuel and maintenance costs alone will save the agency millions over the next 12 years. These numbers make it a wise investment, especially if you assign a monetary value to the important environmental and human health benefits – something our society still struggles to do.

So, our thanks to Laketran for sponsoring and hosting the GEO Electric Vehicle Tour and bringing electric buses to Ohio. We hope – actually we expect – that one day those buses will be charged with renewable energy and we already have Laketran thinking about roof and ground-mounted solar arrays.

Imagine heading home from work by EV, bike, or on foot from your local zero emission bus station after getting off a clean, quiet electric bus. Our future reality is arriving faster than you might think!

Written by Tom Rapini