As zero-emission starts to become the standard for buses, operators and local authorities (LAs) are considering the role that data can play in ensuring the successful operation of zero-emission buses (ZEBs), reducing maintenance costs, and timing battery replacement appropriately.
Historically, there has been a reluctance from operators to pay for effective data collection, particularly through vehicle telematics, due to the added cost and a perceived lack of value. That approach is understandable as operators have had a historic understanding of their routes and expected vehicle performance, and the likely maintenance regime required.
However, as ZEBs are introduced more rapidly and at scale, a ‘plug and play’ attitude will likely result in major challenges and higher costs down the line.
Data the enabler of a transition to zero-emission
Having access to live data for individual buses is crucial to ensuring that they have sufficient range to complete their day’s work – especially useful when unforeseen congestion or incidents occur. Data enables predictive maintenance so operators can plan interventions ahead of time, ordering replacement parts early to reduce downtime and improving vehicle availability.
Data collected automatically and digitally reduces data handling errors that occur when information is recorded on paper by hand. Having data readily accessible will also enable more effective training of staff and shift handovers and it may also support a reduction in insurance costs.
Data will play an even greater role in understanding battery life and degradation. A critical piece of ZEB operation is planning the daily range of the vehicle, especially if opportunity charging is not an option.
Battery replacement is by far the greatest cost after initial vehicle purchase, and it is crucial to the total life cost of ZEBs. The better understanding that operators have of the performance of batteries and fuel cells over time, the better their forecasts can be in relation to future cost outlays and procurement decisions.
Some operators find huge reels of data daunting and the analysis of it time consuming. With some telematics packages offering over 3,000 data points on one vehicle, this again is understandable. However, telematics providers and manufacturers can support operators with training, vehicle analysis and summary dashboards to ensure that data is accessible and relevant.
Don’t forget to view the full picture
Vehicle telematics is only half the picture. Understanding the availability and performance of chargers and refuelling equipment is critical. Basics such as knowing that a charger is working and if a bus is fully charged at the start of the day are essential. Infrastructure availability will be extremely important as operators look to move vehicles across services during the day and plan opportunity charging in depots.
Data will be highly crucial should any incidents occur, or warranty issues arise. Having clear sight of where the vehicle was and how it was behaving will help operators to better resolve issues.
When the first EV bus to be involved in a fire in the UK occurring last month, being able to quickly and accurately identify if any component was a factor will be critical. Historic telematics data for that vehicle will help all parties in their investigations. Long-term data will enable OEMs to identify any issues early and accelerate problem solving with component providers and operators.
With the first vehicles funded via the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas programme in England being procured in the coming months, it is crucial that operators and LAs understand both what telematics packages are available and how important data will be in the successful operation of ZEBs.