Will New Jersey’s Electric Bus Plan Go the Distance?

NJ Transit wants to deploy electric buses using two charging-equipped bus garages and redesigned routes. But some are worried that the EV range won’t be sufficient for some of the longer routes.

(TNS) — NJ Transit officials unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to begin deploying electric buses in the state. The proposal includes two pilot programs running buses in Camden and Newark, modernizing bus garages with charging equipment and redesigning bus routes.

The three-phase plan, the agency’s first to deploy electric buses, relies on doing various tasks simultaneously.

Among them are building a state-of-the-art new Northern Bus garage, testing eight buses in Camden, an additional eight buses on the #25 route in Newark, retrofitting old bus garages with charging infrastructure, and drafting a plan to change bus routes and ultimately purchase buses.

The agency has a mandate from Gov. Phil Murphy to meet, that all new bus purchases will be electric or other zero emission buses by 2032 and that the bus fleet will be 100 percent zero emission by 2040.

The plan mirrors how NJ Transit deployed the federally-mandated positive train control safety system by getting the prototype right on one line and then rolling it out on other lines, said Kevin Corbett, NJ Transit CEO, before a presentation to NJ Transit’s board Energy and Sustainability committee Tuesday afternoon.

“The important thing is getting the core infrastructure right. You can have hundreds of buses, but if you don’t have the core infrastructure to charge them, it’s all for naught,” he said. “We have a really good road map that focuses on understanding some of those details.”

A key finding in the plan is that current electric buses won’t cover the same miles as a diesel bus before needing a charge, which is an industry wide issue. New York’s MTA will install an on-route charging station in Brooklyn with the purchase of 15 more electric buses to provide enough charge to keep them operating for two full shifts per day.

Four bus garages in Jersey City, Camden, Maplewood and Hamilton would be the first to be retrofitted with charging infrastructure, under the plan. But electric buses only have the battery range to cover the average daily miles run by diesel buses at two garages, the plan said.

Battery powered buses would run an “expected” average of 140 miles between charges and a maximum of 240 to 260 miles. That would be sufficient range for urban bus routes based out of the Greenville garage in Jersey City and the Hilton garage in Maplewood. Buses based in Greenville run an average of 72 miles a day and a maximum of 128. Buses from Hilton run an average of 119 daily miles and a maximum of 197.

That range becomes worrisome for buses run out of the Newton garage in Camden, which average 206 daily miles and can hit a maximum of 348 miles, and at Hamilton where average bus mileage is 225 a day and a maximum of 304, the plan said.

The average diesel-powered bus runs 300-miles plus between refueling, the plan said.

“Our southern buses travel further than our northern buses and this will presents a challenge,” said Eric Daleo, NJ Transit capital projects senior vice president. “We can’t expect an electric bus to cover the same miles as a diesel.”

The plan proposes other ways to deal with the battery issue, including changing bus routes and operations.

More precise data will come from the Camden pilot program that will deploy buses on eight different routes in the vicinity of the Newton garage. Another eight electric-bus pilot will be run from the Hilton garage, on the 25 bus route in Newark, after Camden’s pilot.

“We’ll study the Newton (garage) performance and apply it to the Hilton deployment,” said Steven Jenks, NJ Transit energy and sustainability programs manager.

NJ Transit also has studied electric bus operations in the U.S., Canada and Europe, and shared information with other transit systems and trade associations, including transit systems where electric bus deployment didn’t work, Corbett said.

The timetable to meet the governor’s goal begins with bus deployment at the Newton garage this fall and building charging infrastructure.

Stage 1 includes 100 percent design for eight charging stations at Hilton garage, a 10 percent charging system design at all other garages and a systemwide survey of all 16 garages to document existing conditions. Getting designs to a 10 percent level of completion is critical for NJ Transit to pursue grants, said Richard Schaefer, NJ Transit Chief Engineer.

Stage 2 includes further electrification design at Newton Avenue Garage and at the Wayne, Hamilton, Hilton Garage and Greenville Bus Garages.

Stage 3 includes final design for Hamilton, Hilton, Newton, Greenville, Wayne Garages and the development of the Operations & Maintenance and Technology Plan. The infrastructure is estimated to cost $2.6 billion.

“We need to be flexible, so we can evolve to the needs of the state and changes in zero emissions bus technology. ... As technology evolves, so will our approach,” said Marc Tuozzolo, NJ Transit Capital Planning director.

Board members and environmentalists praised for the plan.

“This is a victory for the lungs of NJ Transit riders, drivers and the communities they (buses) go through,” said Doug O’Malley, Director, Environment NJ, referring to the negative health effects of diesel emissions. “This is the commitment we have been waiting for from NJ Transit.”

The plan was called far more than a bus buying project, by said Cedrick Fulton, board vice president and former Port Authority tunnels, bridges and bus terminals director.

“This is making a transformation that most of us have not had to deal with in our careers,” he said. “We have a really good tool here.”

©2021 Advance Local Media LLC. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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