Electric Bus Maintenance Insights: Streamlining Operations and Learning from Early Adopters in City Transit Systems

A quiet yet powerful shift is underway in modern urban transit — the rise of electric buses. These eco-friendly vehicles are steering us towards a new era of sustainable mobility. When navigating this new terrain, there’s much to learn about electric bus maintenance from those who paved the way. 

Think of this information as your roadmap, charting a course through the experiences of trailblazers in electric bus integration, fusing practical guidance and pioneering insight. Their experiences — both successes and challenges — can help you make informed decisions and optimize your electric bus maintenance practices.

Core Principles of Electric Bus Maintenance Technology

Battery Systems: The Power Behind the Movement

Electric buses rely on advanced battery systems to store the electrical energy needed for propulsion. These are fundamental replacements for the combustion engines found in diesel buses.

The type and capacity of these batteries determine the bus’s operational range, efficiency and how often they need recharging.

Electric Motors: The Driving Force

The electric motor converts the stored electrical energy in the batteries into mechanical energy that propels the bus.

The performance of these motors is crucial as it affects the bus’s overall driving dynamics and energy usage.

Charging Systems: Sustaining the Journey

Charging systems for electric buses can vary, each with unique operational implications. These chargers range from overnight charging stations to rapid on-route charging systems. The choice of charging infrastructure is a strategic decision that influences a bus network’s daily operation and bus battery longevity.

Each component — the battery, electric motors and charging systems — plays a pivotal role in electric buses’ functionality and ecological footprint. Mastery of these elements is essential in transitioning to and managing an efficient, sustainable urban transit system.

Lessons Learned in Electric Bus Maintenance and Operations from the Early Adopters

The U.S. PIRG Education Fund, in conjunction with Environment America Research and Policy Center and Frontier Group, reviewed case studies of six agencies that have implemented electric buses into their transit systems and reported, “The experience of six early adopters of electric buses illustrates the challenges that agencies have faced, as well as the benefits many have received from their electric bus pilots. To speed up the rollout of electric buses and ensure that cities see the benefits of these vehicles, state and city officials should commit to a transition to electric buses on a specific timeline and create favorable utility rate structures for transit agencies that include reduced off-peak energy rates and limited demand charges.” 

This comprehensive analysis serves as a guide for other transit agencies considering similar transitions to electric bus technology.

Climate Adaptability 

Challenge: Harsh Winters

Seneca, Chicago and King County faced challenges with electric bus battery performance in extreme temperatures. Cold weather significantly impacted battery efficiency and operational range, highlighting the need for climate-resilient technology. Heaters drain the battery faster, while during extremely hot weather, the batteries need to be charged slower than usual to avoid overheating.

Response: Innovation in Battery Technology 

Chicago’s Transit Authority worked with manufacturers to develop batteries capable of performing in sub-zero temperatures. King County’s experience led to exploring on-route charging and other adaptations for reliable performance in colder climates.

Guidelines for Future Electric Bus Adoption: These experiences emphasize the need for future electric bus deployments to incorporate technology that can withstand diverse weather conditions. Cities should conduct climate-specific testing to ensure reliable operation.

The insights from Chicago and King County highlight the need for continuous development in battery technology, particularly focusing on resilience during temperature fluctuations. Future electric bus maintenance strategies should include robust design, climate adaptability and innovative charging solutions to ensure dependable performance across varying environmental conditions.

At Schetky Bus & Van Sales, our electric bus platforms have software that allows us to monitor the system remotely. If the battery packs or motors are not performing at ideal levels, we can provide system upgrades and diagnostics and schedule preventative maintenance through the online system. With this monitoring in place, we can continue to deliver quality service even after your initial purchase. Our systems come with substantial battery and motor warranties, and each vehicle is tailored to provide the operator with the perfect balance of vehicle range and performance based on their application and geographic location.

Infrastructure Planning 

Challenge: Retrofitting and Upgrading for Electric Buses 

Cities like Chicago and Albuquerque had to retrofit and upgrade existing transit facilities significantly to accommodate electric buses. These changes included installing necessary charging stations and adapting maintenance facilities for electric bus specifications.

Response: Proactive Infrastructure Overhaul 

These cities undertook extensive infrastructure modifications. Chicago’s initiative was driven by a commitment to integrate electric buses into its fleet, while Albuquerque’s experience revealed the importance of a strong support system for maintenance and technical challenges.

Guidelines for Future Electric Bus Adoption: The future adoption of electric buses should involve comprehensive planning for infrastructure changes. These changes may include assessing existing facilities for compatibility with electric buses, planning for charging station installation and establishing partnerships with utility providers who can efficiently manage energy needs and costs.

Spectrum News stated, “The U.S. Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory estimates the country will need 28 million charging ports by 2030 to refuel the 33 million light-duty electrics that could be on the road by then.”

Schetky Bus & Van Sales supports setting up charging infrastructure, making the shift to electric fleets smoother and more accessible. We also offer nationwide delivery and support to help your agency transition to electric buses. Our experts can assist you in your transition to sustainable and efficient transportation solutions.

electric bus maintenance

Energy Costs

Challenge: High Electricity Demand Charges 

Several of the case studies, including King County and Twin Rivers, encountered high electricity demand charges, significantly impacting electric buses’ operating costs.

Response: Fleet Expansion and Managed Charging Systems 

To address this, King County expanded its electric bus fleet and optimized charging patterns, decreasing costs. Twin Rivers implemented smart charging solutions to enhance energy efficiency.

Guidelines for Future Electric Bus Adoption: Future electric bus implementations should consider strategies like expanding the electric bus fleet, implementing managed charging

systems and collaborating with utility providers to negotiate favorable rates. Additionally, exploring policies like reduced off-peak energy rates and limited demand charges, as seen in some case studies, can significantly reduce energy expenses. Adopting a strategic approach towards energy management, including considering local utility rate structures and potential subsidies or incentives, will be crucial in managing energy costs effectively for electric bus maintenance and operations.

Electric Bus Maintenance and Technical Support

Challenge: Ensuring Reliable Maintenance and Technical Support

The case studies, including those from Albuquerque and Massachusetts, highlighted challenges in maintaining and providing technical support for electric buses. Issues ranged from technical problems to maintenance complexities, underscoring the need for reliable support systems.

In Massachusetts, the case study highlighted a specific challenge with maintenance and technical support due to the remote location of the electric bus manufacturer, Lion. The distance from the manufacturer posed difficulties in getting timely technical support and maintenance services, emphasizing the importance of having readily accessible local expertise and support for electric bus operations.

Response: Developing Robust Support Networks and Training 

In response, transit agencies focused on building strong relationships with manufacturers and enhancing local technical expertise, including training maintenance staff on electric bus technology and ensuring quick response times for technical support.

Guidelines for Future Electric Bus Adoption: Future electric bus deployments should prioritize establishing comprehensive electric bus maintenance and technical support networks from the outset. This process may involve training maintenance personnel, setting up responsive support systems with manufacturers and ensuring access to local technical expertise. It’s also crucial to include provisions in contracts with manufacturers for adequate support and maintenance guarantees.

Schetky Bus & Van Sales is equipped to provide a comprehensive solution for transitioning to electric fleets, offering a turnkey approach. We have an entire division that specializes in guiding customers through the process, from educating them about available grant opportunities to assisting with grant writing and applications.

“Their excellent customer service before and after the sale is also important to us. The team at Schetky Northwest knows us by name and supports our goals. As we move into the EV world, we know they will be right there with us.”  — Devin Denney, director of transportation for Highline Public Schools

Vehicle Range and Usage Flexibility

Challenge: Range Limitations and Operational Flexibility
Several agencies, including Chicago, Twin Rivers and Albuquerque, faced challenges related to the range limitations of electric buses. These limitations affected route planning and operational flexibility, especially in varying topographical and climatic conditions.

Response: Adapting Operations and Exploring Solutions 

Agencies responded by adapting their operations to the range of capabilities of the buses. Chicago managed route planning considering elevation changes, Twin Rivers considered additional vehicle options for varying needs and Albuquerque addressed issues related to range in extreme heat.

Guidelines for Future Electric Bus Adoption: Future adoptions should include thorough route and operational planning to accommodate the range limitations of electric buses. Agencies should explore technological advancements for extended range, consider mixed fleets for different operational needs and ensure robust planning for diverse climatic and topographical conditions.

electric bus maintenance

Cost Savings Potential

Challenge: Balancing Initial Investment with Operational Savings 

In the case studies of Twin Rivers and Seneca, the key challenge highlighted was the initial high cost of electric buses compared to traditional diesel buses. This factor posed a significant financial hurdle, requiring careful budgeting and strategic financial planning. The agencies needed to balance these upfront costs against the anticipated long-term operational savings from reduced fuel and maintenance expenses associated with electric buses.

Response: Strategic Financial Management and Utilization of Incentives 

Twin Rivers and Seneca tackled the challenge of high initial costs by strategically managing their finances and seeking available incentives. They focused on leveraging funding options, grants and subsidies that could offset the upfront expenses of electric buses.

Guidelines for Future Electric Bus Adoption: Future adopters should explore various funding sources and financial incentives to mitigate the initial higher costs of electric buses. It’s essential to develop a comprehensive financial strategy that includes potential grants, subsidies and long-term operational savings calculations to make a compelling case for the investment in electric buses.

Regulatory Compliance and Standards

Challenge: Meeting Evolving Regulations

The transit agency in Albuquerque faced challenges meeting regulatory standards specific to electric buses, often including new and evolving requirements. 

Response: Proactive Adaptation and Relaunch

The substandard performance of the buses prompted the agency to cancel their first trial. They planned to relaunch their electric bus and were optimistic about overcoming their challenges.

Guidelines for Future Adoption: Future electric bus projects should engage early with regulatory bodies, staying informed about evolving standards and incorporating compliance into their planning and operational strategies. 

At Schetky Bus & Van Sales,  our electric bus conversions meet the strict requirements of the chassis manufacturers. Whether it is a light-duty application like a Ford E-Series chassis or a medium-duty Ford F-59 chassis, we can provide an electric conversion tailored to your specific needs.

Recommendations and Forward-Looking Strategies for Electric Bus Maintenance

In the journey toward electric bus integration, transit agencies are encouraged to establish early partnerships with utilities and engage in detailed planning, including rate modeling for electricity. It’s crucial to have protective clauses in contracts with manufacturers and to realistically assess the capabilities of electric buses for specific routes, considering factors like route mileage, topography and charging infrastructure needs. 

Agencies should also consider shadowing tests with buses from different vendors before finalizing bids and aim to invest in a sizeable fleet to establish a strong proof of concept. Gathering data from agencies with prior experience and including environmental and health benefits in cost-benefit evaluations is recommended for a comprehensive understanding of electric bus implementation. 

This approach ensures a more informed, efficient and sustainable transition to electric buses in urban transit systems.

Partner with Schetky Bus & Van Sales for Your Electric Bus Transition and Maintenance

If you’re ready to transition to electric buses, Schetky Bus & Van Sales can help. With a history dating back to 1942, we offer a range of electric buses and provide comprehensive services from sales to after-sale support, ensuring reliable operation for customers’ fleets. 

ith a focus on customer satisfaction and a nationwide presence, Schetky is well-equipped to assist with all-electric bus acquisition and maintenance. Our expertise in the field can guide transit agencies through the complexities of transitioning to electric vehicles, offering tailored solutions that cater to specific needs.

We offer a comprehensive warranty for their electric buses, including full coverage and an extensive 8-year or 300,000-mile warranty specifically for the battery. This coverage ensures reliable performance and peace of mind for customers investing in electric transportation solutions.

Contact us for more information about our electric bus solutions — we are ready to assist you with your transition to eco-friendly transportation. 

About David Schetky

Schetky offers the most innovative and highly awarded vehicles in the commercial and school bus industries.