Zion National Park May Soon Adopt Electric Buses

Zion National Park May Soon Adopt Electric Buses

The National Park Service has long maintained a commitment to minimizing traffic on their roads and keeping environmentally-vehicles in their fleet. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), roughly 60 percent of the vehicles the Park Service maintains are electric or powered by alternative fuels. About 20 years ago, the Park Service began replacing its gasoline and diesel-powered buses with low-emission propane-powered alternatives. Now, those buses are getting old and park officials are considering upgrading to an even more environmentally-friendly alternative – electric buses.

Recently, the Park Service began working with the NREL to evaluate the possibility of converting 14 propane-powered buses in Utah’s Zion National Park to electric drivetrains. Before the Park Service can commit to the conversions, they need to make sure that the electric buses would be able to meet the demands of traversing the road topography in the Zion National Park. They’ll also have to assess the cost of installing and supporting a charging infrastructure in the park.

Currently, the NREL is working on gathering data from onboard logging devices on the current fleet of buses to determine the power and range that an electric bus will need to ferry tourists around the park in the future. Once they gather the statistical data on the current buses’ performance, they’ll provide the information to companies bidding for the conversion contract.

The NREL has worked with the Parks Service in the past, and was instrumental in the earlier transition to propane-powered buses. Now, they’ve returned to help facilitate the transition to electric buses as well. Zion might be the first National Park to work toward adopting electric buses, but they certainly won’t be the last.

China’s Road-Straddling Bus Takes a Test Drive

China’s Road-Straddling Bus Takes a Test Drive

Earlier this year, civil engineers at the 19th China Beijing International High-Tech Expo unveiled plans for an innovative space-saving bus that rides above traffic rather than alongside it. It’s called the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB), and its unique design quickly gained a great deal of notoriety online. While some transit experts praised the bus’s road-straddling construction, others argued that it was merely a conceptual design that could never materialize into a real vehicle.

At the time, the TEB’s engineering time had nothing but a miniature scale model to demonstrate their invention. Now, just a few months later, a full-size TEB has taken its inaugural test drive in Qinhuangdao, Hebei province. The test drive was conducted in a controlled trial that didn’t exactly mimic normal driving conditions, but it did at least prove that the TEB could, in fact, be driven on a real roadway. The test drive consisted of a 300 meter run with one TEB bus carriage. Ultimately, the TEB’s designers plan to connect four of the carriages together so that a single bus could carry as many as 1,200 passengers. In addition to its one-of-a-kind design, the TEB is also unique in that it’s powered by a fully-electric drivetrain.

Even on a brief test run, watching the behemoth bus roll down the road while cars travel underneath it is an impressive sight. It’s hard to say if and when the bus will become commonplace on China’s roadways, but for now you can see the bus in action in this video of its first test run!

 

Proterra Releases Patents For Fast-Charging Technology

Proterra Releases Patents For Fast-Charging Technology

Since it was founded in 2004, Proterra has become one of the biggest names in zero-emission bus design in the world.  Last year, Fortune Magazine went so far as to call the company the Tesla of electric buses. According to Bloomberg BNA, the company currently controls about 80 percent of the U.S. market for electric buses. You can find Proterra’s electric buses in cities all over the country – from Seattle to Reno to Nashville.

What distinguishes Proterra from its competitors isn’t just its commitment to electric vehicles; it’s the company’s proprietary rapid-charging technology that allows their buses to be recharged in as little as 10 minutes. This technology has alleviated one of the chief concerns many transit authorities have had about electric buses in the past – namely, the equipment downtime necessitated by long charging times. With Proterra’s overhead charging system, its buses can recharge quickly at stops and operate all day long. Now, in an effort to encourage other industries to adopt electric vehicles, Proterra has announced that it will make three of the patents on its fast-charging system open to the public.

“We really want to stay focused on perfecting electric vehicles for the transit bus industry,” said Proterra CEO Ryan Popple in an interview with Fortune. “One of the ways we can help other entities not have to reinvent the wheel or reinvent the charger, is to open this up, provide information, and supplier access and let other companies go after applications that really aren’t core to us or our customers.”

This isn’t the first time companies in the alternative fuel market have made their technologies open source. In the past, both Toyota and Tesla have released electric vehicle patents to the public. In doing so, they hope to foster further competition and innovation in the electric vehicle market, and ease concerns about electric vehicles that have been perpetuated by gas companies. Releasing proprietary technology to competitors might seem counterintuitive from a business standpoint, but in fact it could be good for all of these companies in the long run.

Orange County, California Unveils Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus

Orange County, California Unveils Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus

The Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) is committed to making their fleet of buses as energy efficient and environmentally friendly as possible. Currently, 97 percent of the fleet runs on clean-burning natural gas. By the end of 2016 they expect the entire fleet to be powered by natural gas, with one notable exception.

On May 23, the OCTA hosted an event to unveil its first zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell bus. Wrapped in a graphic decal of California poppies, the bus will roam the streets of Orange County in a two-year demonstration of hydrogen fuel cell technology. The $2.6 million dollar project is being funded by the Federal Transit Administration’s National Fuel Cell Bus Program.

The bus, which operates by converting chemical energy in hydrogen fuel into electricity, emits only water as exhaust and is completely silent. Likewise, it provides a much smoother and more comfortable ride for passengers than older buses powered by large diesel engines. It can run on a single charge for more than 200 miles, and can be refueled in a matter of minutes. Electric battery-powered buses, on the other hand, can take several hours to charge.

The OCTA has applied for additional funding from the California Air Resources Board in hopes of adding 10 more of the buses to its fleet in the future. They are now the fourth transportation agency in California to operate a hydrogen fuel cell bus.

It’s remarkable how far hydrogen fuel cell technology has come in just a few years. As the cost of the technology continues to fall, we may see more of these vehicles on the road sooner than you might think.

Chinese Engineers Debut Innovative Space-Saving Bus Design

Chinese Engineers Debut Innovative Space-Saving Bus Design

Here in America, many cities have begun embracing bus rapid transit systems as fast, cost-effective alternatives to subways. In China, meanwhile, engineers are taking a very different approach to modern bus transit. It’s called the Transit Elevated Bus (TEB), and it debuted earlier this month at the 19th China Beijing International High-Tech Expo.

As its name suggests, the TEB’s passenger rides above traffic, rather than alongside of it. Its massive frame straddles cars, allowing them to pass underneath it without disrupting the flow of traffic. With its sleek lines and unusual form factor, the TEB looks distinctly futuristic.

Civil engineers in China hope that the TEB could allow them to bring the convenience of a subway system to cities at a fraction of the cost. Because it can carry hundreds of passengers and doesn’t require devoted lanes, TEB has the potential to be even more cost-effective than bus rapid transit systems.

“With a carrying capacity of 1,200 people at a time, the TEB has the same functions as the subway while its cost of construction is less than one fifth of the subway. Its construction can be finished in one year,” said Bai Zhiming, chief engineer of the TEB project.

Of course there are still some significant practical hurdles to overcome before the TEB hits the streets. First and foremost, drivers will likely need some time to acclimate to the idea of driving underneath enormous, highway-straddling buses. This will mean city planners will have to be careful about where they choose to implement the first TEB systems.

The engineers behind the TEB project hope to begin trial operations in Qinhaungdao City in the second half of 2016. You can check out a demonstration of the TEB in the video below!

 

Students Design Retrofit Seat Belt System for Motor Coaches

Students Design Retrofit Seat Belt System for Motor Coaches

Last year, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) began encouraging states to adopt new legislation that would require school buses to be outfitted with seatbelts. Now, a group of students at the University of Massachusetts Amherst College of Engineering have developed a device that could bring seat belts to motor coaches and municipal transit buses as well.
 
Starting this year, all new motor coaches are required to be manufactured with seat belts. Federal safety officials estimate that seat belts could reduce fatality rates in rollover accidents by as much as 77 percent. The only trouble is that there are already thousands of motor coaches already on the road that don’t have seat belts. With conventional upgrades, outfitting all of these buses with seat belts would be prohibitively expensive – about $40,000 to $50,000 per bus. With the Retrofit Seat Belt System, however, it would cost just $15,000 per bus.
 
“The design is affordable because it is the only known way to add seat belts to existing motor coaches without replacing all the seats,” said Sundar Krishnamurty, head of the research team at UMass that developed the retrofit system. “Furthermore, it will be minimally intrusive or noticeable to passengers. Thus, we can expect many bus owners to be interested in a more profitable means to improve the critical safety and comfort of their passengers.”
 
Krishnamurty and his team believe that as seatbelts in motor coaches become the norm, private transit companies will embrace the Retrofit Seat Belt System as a cost-effective alternative to traditional upgrade options. The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded the team $50,000 dollars to help them bring their invention to market.
 
Currently the Retrofit Seat Belt System is only designed for use on motor coaches and transit buses, but Krishnamurty and his team are conducting further research that would allow them to adapt the system for use on school buses as well.
 

Some School Districts Turning to Propane-Powered Buses

Some School Districts Turning to Propane-Powered Buses

In recent years, as public school districts have struggled to cope with tight budgetary restrictions, administrators have been forced to find new, creative ways to save money wherever possible. In many districts, particularly in the Midwest, schools have begun adopting propane-powered buses to cut the cost of fuel.
 
The Cedar Rapids School District in Iowa, for example, recently purchased seven new propane-powered buses to replace aging diesel models. These buses typically cost about $5,000 more than their diesel counterparts, but school districts can quickly recoup that loss in reduced fuel prices. Other notable districts that have adopted propane-powered school buses include Omaha, Chicago and Philadelphia.
 
Cost-cutting measure might be the primary reason that many school districts are adding propane-powered buses to their fleets, but it’s not the only one. Some school districts have begun making the transition to propane-power in anticipation of stricter emissions requirements on diesel vehicles from the EPA. Other districts in cold climates have found that propane-powered motors perform better in sub-freezing temperatures than diesel engines. Because propane burns far cleaner than diesel, it has also become popular in school districts with environmentally-friendly policy initiatives.
 
There is, however, one notable drawback to propane-powered school buses. It’s not always easy to find a propane refueling station on the road, so these buses aren’t ideal for long field trips or distant sporting events. Until propane refueling options become more widespread, school districts will likely have to keep a few diesel models on hand for long distance trips.
 
Stay tuned for more updates from your premier source for quality new and used buses – Northwest Bus Sales.
 

New Highway Bill Aims to Repair Crumbling Infrastructure

New Highway Bill Aims to Repair Crumbling Infrastructure

Over the course of the past decade, industry analysts have become increasingly concerned about the troubled state of America’s transit infrastructure. Earlier this year, for example, the American Road & Transportation Builders Association released a report that identified 61,000 bridges as “structurally deficient.” In an effort to address concerns such as these, the Obama Administration signed a new five-year, $305 billion highway bill into law early last month. It’s known as the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, and it’s the first major long-term highway bill to be passed in over a decade.
 

What it Means for Mass Transit

 
Of the $305 billion included in the bill, $48.7 has been allotted to repair and update the country’s mass transit systems. A large portion of this will likely be devoted to fixing an ailing rail system that has troubled the shipping industry in recent years. The FAST Act also includes legislation that makes it easier for city officials to make decisions regarding their local transit infrastructure. With the adoption of this new bill, there will (in theory) be less red tape for local transit authorities to cut through when trying to update mass transit systems or offer alternative forms of transportation such as bike lanes and car sharing programs.
 

So Where is That $305 Billion Coming From?

 
The Fast Act has the potential make some big improvements on the country’s transit system, but some legislators and economists are worried about how the funding for those improvements is being sourced. Some of the funding will be generated by selling oil from the Strategic Oil Reserve. Even more worrisome, however, is the fact that some of the funds will come directly from a Federal Reserve account. Technically speaking, Congress doesn’t have access to that money. Perhaps in an effort to preserve the country’s essential traffic infrastructure, the designers of the bill were willing to bend the rules a little (or a lot, as the case may be). After spending years trying unsuccessfully to bandage America’s aging transit infrastructure, it seems desperate times are calling for desperate measures.
 

In West Virginia, School Buses Will Soon Have Wi-Fi

In West Virginia, School Buses Will Soon Have Wi-Fi

These days, you can find internet access just about everywhere – from the local coffee shop down the street to a base camp on Mt. Everest. Soon, you’ll be able to add school buses in Kanawha County, West Virginia to that list. Over the course of the next year, more than 150 buses in the school district will be retrofitted with Wi-Fi.
 
Many students in the rural area have unusually long bus rides, and school administrators hope that if they provide students with internet access on buses, they’ll take the opportunity to complete homework assignments on their rides to and from school. Many parents in the area, however, are not sold on the idea.
 
Some argue that, rather than using the internet to do homework, students will simply surf the web and browse social media sites instead. Others argue that the $63,000 a year it will take to pay for the Wi-Fi could be better spent elsewhere (on new text books and seat belts for school buses, for instance). “There are schools that need books and heat and all this other stuff, but then they want to spend money to put Wi-Fi on a school bus,” said one concerned parent in an interview with local TV news outlet WSAZ.
 
Whether or not the idea will work as administrators have planned remains to be seen. What is sure, however, is that we’re likely to see internet access coming to more buses in the near future. Many cities are already offering free Wi-Fi access in their municipal bus fleets. Soon, rather than being a wasted hour in the day, a commute on a bus could provide passengers with new opportunities for productivity and innovation.
 
Stay tuned for more updates from your premier source for new and used buses – Northwest Bus Sales.
 

In India, the “Uber of Buses” is Easing Chaotic Commutes

In India, the “Uber of Buses” is Easing Chaotic Commutes

Commuting in India’s capital city of Mumbai can be a downright harrowing experience. The streets are notoriously crowded, and public transit is famously unreliable. Bus schedules are unpredictable and the buses themselves are often packed to the brim with uncomfortable passengers. Commute times can vary wildly, and it sometimes takes passengers hours to get to work.
 
Jerin Venad is a graduate of the Indian Institute of Technology who was tired of spending two hours getting to and from his job at Ernst & Young in Mumbai. After kicking around ideas with a few of his former college classmates, Venad created Cityflo – a service that allows people to reserve spots on privately run buses via a smartphone app. The buses follow many of the most popular public bus routes in the city.
 
To book a ride, all people have to do is select a route and then pay their faire with a digital wallet. Once the reservation is confirmed, Cityflo will text riders with details on the status of their bus. Cityflo’s buses have only been operating for a little over two months, but they’re already receiving overwhelmingly positive feedback from their riders.
 
The response has been so good, in fact, that Cityflo just received an additional $733,000 in seed funding from venture capital firm IDG Ventures. Venad and his team plan on using the money to increase the number of routes in Mumbai and expand their service to other cities in India as well. The success of Cityflo has been so impressive that we wouldn’t be surprised to see other similar services crop up here at home as well.
 
Ready to expand the fleet of your own private transit service? View our entire inventory online and see all the new and used options available at Northwest Bus Sales.