podcast

Electric School Bus Operation

August 10, 2023

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Albert Burleigh and Lauren Beaty discuss electric school bus operation, including a comparison to operating an ICE bus, features such as regenerative braking and hill hold, and driver training.

Transcript:

00:00:04:18 – 00:00:18:11
Speaker 1
Hello. Welcome to Bird’s Eye View. In this series, we’ll discuss everything bus related from the perspective of an industry leading school bus manufacturer. I’m Lauren Beaty, grants manager at Bluebird.

00:00:18:12 – 00:00:22:04
Speaker 2
And I’m Albert Burleigh Bluebirds executive director of EV business development.

00:00:22:09 – 00:00:28:20
Speaker 1
In this season, we’ll discuss how to electrify your school bus fleet. So let’s jump on the bus.

00:00:28:22 – 00:00:39:03
Speaker 2
Let’s get started.

00:00:39:05 – 00:01:03:07
Speaker 1
In this episode, we’re going to talk about how to operate an EV bus. And, as a grants manager here, I’ve only been here for about a year. So most everything that I have learned about an electric bus has been from Albert. So let’s start with the questions. What are the differences? Main differences. And operating an electric bus versus a traditional Ice engine bus.

00:01:03:09 – 00:01:25:23
Speaker 2
Great question. That’s one we get a lot of because not all customers have had the opportunity actually drive an electric bus. So they want to know what’s that experience going to be like, right. When they actually do have an opportunity to drive one or they purchase one for their fleet. So ask actually kind of two different parts. One is just the experience of driving an electric bus and how that’s different, which the main things are going to notice is first of course is quiet.

00:01:26:01 – 00:01:42:15
Speaker 2
they’re driving a diesel bus or propane bus, gas bus. Those all make a lot of engine noise. the cabin’s loud or what have you on an electric bus. That’s not the case, right? They’re going to step in, they’re going to crank it up, and they’re going to notice that it’s completely quiet. Great benefit really for the driver.

00:01:42:17 – 00:01:56:10
Speaker 2
Because now you can hear the kids in the back. They’re not screaming over the sound of a diesel engine. They’re more well-behaved. I think they’re going to notice a more calm environment right off the bat. So quiet operation is a first thing they’re going to notice. And I think it makes for a great experience.

00:01:56:11 – 00:02:04:21
Speaker 1
I think that was something that I personally would have enjoyed as a child, because I rode the school bus and, yeah, you never know what was going on.

00:02:04:23 – 00:02:20:17
Speaker 2
You never know what’s going on. Yeah. And so the driver is keeping his eyes to the back because all this noise and you’re like, is, you know, something happening, right now? An electric bus. They can hear the conversations, they can keep their eyes on the road more. They don’t have to worry as much. So really, it’s a it’s a nice benefit for the drivers I see.

00:02:20:17 – 00:02:41:04
Speaker 2
The other thing is performance. the bus drives fantastic. It has, you know, it’s a little bit heavier, has a lower center of gravity. It drives better. They’ll notice that quickly. And also the acceleration is considerably better. So if you ever drove and driven a electric vehicle, or electric golf cart, it’s kind of the same sensation. You step on the gas.

00:02:41:05 – 00:03:00:12
Speaker 2
It’s immediate power. You don’t have that lag of a transmission. basically takes off right away. We actually timed our busses, a diesel bass, an electric bus. Because you want to know how much faster this thing, you know. So what we do, you know. So we wanted to kind of see what that was like. I think it diesel bus was about 48 seconds from 0 to 60 EV bus was 20s.

00:03:00:12 – 00:03:00:20
Speaker 2
So it’s.

00:03:00:22 – 00:03:01:21
Speaker 1
That’s amazing.

00:03:02:02 – 00:03:17:09
Speaker 2
It is. You don’t want drivers doing that because they’re going to burn a lot of energy if they’re jamming on the accelerator. And but if you need to get up to speed quickly on a highway, for example, which some school districts do, you can do it better in the EV bus, in any of the products. So performance, quiet operation.

00:03:17:11 – 00:03:37:03
Speaker 2
You’ll notice that right off the bat when driving it. But there’s also some things just technically they have to do differently on the EV bus. to operate it. So we have a couple of safety interlocks that we always show drivers when they first get in. One is you absolutely have to have the driver’s seat belt on which they normally would anyway, but you have to have it on to put the bus in gear.

00:03:37:06 – 00:03:51:22
Speaker 2
Okay? If you don’t do that, the bus won’t go into gear. The reason is it’s so quiet, you don’t want them to have the bus in gear and not realize it and step out of their seat and the bus starts moving, right? Because a foot came off the brake. So it gives one added layer of safety for drivers.

00:03:51:22 – 00:03:53:21
Speaker 2
So that type of accident doesn’t happen.

00:03:54:02 – 00:04:01:08
Speaker 1
So sorry I’m sorry to interrupt. Did they get an error message or anything. Or they just have to know that my seatbelts not on this bus isn’t going to go?

00:04:01:09 – 00:04:17:09
Speaker 2
Yeah, they will get an error message. So if they don’t have the seatbelt on, they try to put it into gear to move. It will give them a warning and they can’t the seat belts not engage. Or if they take it off while it’s in gear, it’ll automatically go into park. So there’s a safety mechanisms put in place so that, you know, unforeseen accident like that doesn’t happen.

00:04:17:09 – 00:04:35:01
Speaker 2
So safety you know, it’s obviously the most important in this case. but good question. And the driver door also are the passenger door. also has to be closed as well. So that entrance door can’t be opened where they can actually step out in the bus move. So the door has to be closed as well, or the bus won’t go into gear.

00:04:35:07 – 00:04:53:08
Speaker 2
Same thing with the driver belt. So those are the kind of the two safety interlocks they have on EVs that you may not experience on your existing busses. So is that as well as the gauges are mostly the same, but there are some key differences. you know, the range indicator instead of a fuel gauge? there’s no fuel.

00:04:53:08 – 00:05:15:12
Speaker 2
Obviously there’s battery power. there’s also instead of a tachometer because you don’t have a transmission, we put an efficiency gauge. and the reason for that is you want drivers to drive it as most efficiently as possible because you want to conserve that range. Right? You’re trying to extend your range as much as possible while driving. The bus efficiency indicator kind of indicates if they’re driving it properly or not.

00:05:15:14 – 00:05:34:14
Speaker 2
If they’re accelerating quickly, it’s going to go all the way to the yellow, which means less efficient if they’re not using the brakes and using what we call regenerative braking, it’ll move to the right and to the green, which means it’s actually conserving more energy. It’s actually putting energy back into the batteries. Which kind of brings me to the next thing, regenerative braking, which I mentioned.

00:05:34:14 – 00:05:54:07
Speaker 2
Right. So what is that? That’s probably the biggest difference they’re going to experience. most drivers are very accustomed to coming up upon a stop, but their foot on the brake stop. Right. Makes sense. That’s natural. On EVs, they have what they call regenerative braking. So when you take your foot off the accelerator, the motor actually works as a generator.

00:05:54:09 – 00:06:12:20
Speaker 2
to not only put energy back in the batteries, but also to slow down the bus. So what they’re going to notice is they’re going to take the foot off the accelerator and try to come to a stop instead of using that service brake to make the stop. And they really do two things when they do that conserve energy and actually conserve that brake life as well.

00:06:12:23 – 00:06:21:13
Speaker 2
Okay. we’re hearing that drivers are getting 2 to 3 times the brake life on EV busses because they’re using regenerative braking instead of the normal service brake.

00:06:21:13 – 00:06:42:20
Speaker 1
So it sounds like there’s more of an art maybe, or a finesse to driving an EV. I’ve heard one of our colleagues talk about, you could leave with a, you know, 15 mile left on your charge and come back maybe with 13 because of the Virginia EV breaking. I know that’s a very simple example, but can you explain that a little?

00:06:42:20 – 00:07:01:07
Speaker 2
Yeah, absolutely. That’s a good point. So yeah, if you use regenerative braking properly, if you’re going ten miles, and using regenerative braking, you should use less than ten miles of range in your battery. Because if you every time you come to a stop, are you going down the side of a hill? Take your foot off the accelerator.

00:07:01:13 – 00:07:20:11
Speaker 2
That motor starts to regenerate power. Put it back in the battery as soon as you hit your brakes. That, operation stops and basically using the brake to slow down the regenerative braking doesn’t work at that point. So there’s a training mechanism for drivers to be able to understand how to use that properly. So that’s really one of the main differences okay.

00:07:20:11 – 00:07:47:13
Speaker 2
The drivers will experience is a regenerative braking. So another big difference is something called hill hold. So on most busses you’re sitting on a hill. The driver has a brake not moving. They take the foot off the brake and move the accelerator. The transmission is going to hold it. And that’s why transmission still is not a transmission. On our bus you basically have another function where the motor will hold the bus in place, but it only does it for a certain amount of time for about five seconds because that motor can overheat.

00:07:47:13 – 00:08:07:19
Speaker 2
So we have to train drivers that when you remove your foot from the brake, you’re on a hill. It will hold it for some period of time, about five seconds. But if you don’t start to accelerate, the bus will roll back. So there’s that whole process that’s different. not a big deal. And really, drivers get accustomed to it quickly, but it is another difference than the nail experience on a typical bus.

00:08:07:19 – 00:08:10:21
Speaker 2
So that’s one of the really all the big differences.

00:08:10:21 – 00:08:28:14
Speaker 1
Can you go back to, the quiet operation? I know in some instances, I know a lot of communities are loving that the busses are so quiet. But, what do we do to alert the kids that the busses on the way or, bus busses entering traffic?

00:08:28:17 – 00:08:46:08
Speaker 2
Yeah. No, you’re right, because if they’re at a bus stop. Kids are goofing around and they don’t hear the bus coming, they could obviously step in front of a quieter, you know, quiet bus. So there is a noise generator that comes standard on all Bluebird busses and it operates from the busses going 20 miles an hour or less.

00:08:46:08 – 00:08:59:11
Speaker 2
Okay. The whole idea there is they can hear the bus coming, it emits a noise. it’s kind of a buzzing noise, but you obviously can hear it very well. If you’re sitting at a bus stop or standing at a bus stop so that they don’t get in the way of the bus when it’s coming up to that, point.

00:08:59:11 – 00:09:10:17
Speaker 2
So that standard, that is something you have to do again for safety. So drivers will notice that they’ll hear that noise. It’ll turn on when it’s under 20 miles an hour. And as they accelerate over, it turns off.

00:09:10:17 – 00:09:14:07
Speaker 1
And so there’s no way to manually turn that off.

00:09:14:07 – 00:09:23:12
Speaker 2
No. Okay. I wouldn’t want to do that. You know, even if it was temporarily, they may forget to turn it back on. So that is on full time when you’re going that speed.

00:09:23:13 – 00:09:26:15
Speaker 1
and you can’t pick your sound.

00:09:26:17 – 00:09:35:17
Speaker 2
No, no, no, you can’t change it to light the sound of the ice cream truck. Right. Anything else? No, it there’s one noise, that it emits,

00:09:35:19 – 00:09:36:05
Speaker 1
You know, for.

00:09:36:07 – 00:09:36:23
Speaker 2
Consistency.

00:09:36:23 – 00:09:38:21
Speaker 1
So customize songs per bus.

00:09:38:21 – 00:09:39:20
Speaker 2
That would be kind of cool.

00:09:39:22 – 00:09:41:04
Speaker 1
What would you like a movie?

00:09:41:05 – 00:09:47:13
Speaker 2
Yeah. My song. We we won’t go there. Like, I have some thoughts.

00:09:47:15 – 00:10:03:21
Speaker 1
I think we should put this into research and development. Yes. okay, so if you are trying to convince a bus driver that, they want to drive this EV, which looks the same on the outside, what would you say about.

00:10:03:23 – 00:10:22:16
Speaker 2
You know, honestly, a lot of drivers are before they drive one, they’re apprehensive. Right? It’s electric. It’s different. You know, it’s a little scary to some I, I get it, generally what I’d say is I’d try to get a bus to them and let them drive it, because normally, as soon as they do, they’re convinced that, oh, this is so much better than what I’m doing today.

00:10:22:18 – 00:10:40:13
Speaker 2
and the good thing is electric busses. Yeah, the powertrain is different. The chassis is a little different because it’s powered by electricity instead of a fuel. But the bus body, like kind of everything from the body up the passenger compartment, the driver’s cockpit, it’s really all the same. So they’ll sit in the driver’s seat and go, wow, this is very familiar.

00:10:40:13 – 00:11:01:11
Speaker 2
It’s just like my other busses. So it really kind of their apprehension goes away because all the switches are in the same place. The gauge is mostly the same. and they do a lot of the same things to drive it. So really, once they sit in it, see that it’s not so different. then they enjoy the experience of driving electric bus over diesel bus.

00:11:01:13 – 00:11:06:05
Speaker 2
They’re hooked up to bus drivers don’t give up their busses. Okay.

00:11:06:07 – 00:11:08:18
Speaker 1
And how many times have you driven an electric bus?

00:11:08:21 – 00:11:25:13
Speaker 2
Quite a bit. I mean, normally I try to put that in a school bus driver or transportation director in the seat so they can experience, but it is by far the funnest bus to drive. Okay. It really is. It’s a great sensation. most people wouldn’t say school busses are fun to drive. I get that. Electric busses?

00:11:25:15 – 00:11:27:00
Speaker 2
Yeah, definitely.

00:11:27:02 – 00:11:32:08
Speaker 1
that wasn’t part of my training. So maybe I should be able to drive an electric bus.

00:11:32:08 – 00:11:36:22
Speaker 2
You should. Absolutely. We’ll get you out there. Yeah, you’ll love it.

00:11:37:00 – 00:11:59:21
Speaker 1
Let’s see. trying to think of other questions. How about training? I know you said that you’ve brought, you bring out a demo bus, but once a school system has ordered or has their busses delivered, what does Bluebird do to help? the whole entire, I guess, county system or the school district, get, acclimated to the busses?

00:11:59:23 – 00:12:20:23
Speaker 2
Yeah, that’s a good question. Another question. We get a lot from school districts. They want to make sure that everyone gets trained. Right. The bus drivers, of course. But, you know, their technicians, all their administrative staff and the transportation department and anyone else, maybe they have local FIRStrillionESPONDERS in their community that want to know more about electric products and what to do if there is an accident.

00:12:21:01 – 00:12:46:13
Speaker 2
So we everyone’s invited to come to the training, and we do do that in person for school districts. And that covers how to drive a bus, how you know the safety requirements, how to shut down a high voltage system of of seven necessary. So we go through really from A to Z, really everything they need to know about electric bus, why it’s different from a diesel powered product or any other product they’re driving, and really want to make them successful as they deploy these busses.

00:12:46:15 – 00:13:04:11
Speaker 2
We also offer some of that online. So if they, you know, while the bus is in production and they want to start learning about it, we do have some, modules, some training modules we offer to Bluebird Academy, no charge to the customer. They can go on and start learning a lot about electric products before the bus even arrives.

00:13:04:11 – 00:13:18:13
Speaker 2
So we want to get them acclimated as soon as possible, make sure everybody’s comfortable. but we do include bus driver training, and we have someone that will drive. There’s many drivers that they’d like and show them all the things we talked about. Regenerative braking. Hello, what have you. Yeah.

00:13:18:14 – 00:13:34:09
Speaker 1
Okay. And, so I have a six year old son who loves Bluebird busses, and we’ve noticed when we’re driving around that the color of the bird can be different depending on what I thought was the fuel type. Is that correct?

00:13:34:11 – 00:13:58:22
Speaker 2
Right. Question. Yeah. We get that asked a lot. What are the different colors mean. But I’ll go through them. black obviously means diesel right. So that’s what most of the ones you see out there, Blackbird on a Bluebird bus is mean a diesel engine. We also have blue. That’s gasoline. And then we also have green. The green can mean a few different, fuel types because they’re all clean emission or zero emission.

00:13:58:22 – 00:14:19:01
Speaker 2
So you have compressed natural gas is one, propane powered is the other, and the green for electric. But the green has a the electric has a little tail coming off the bird, a little power cord, which indicates that it’s electric, as well as the fact that it doesn’t have a tailpipe, which is another telltale sign that the bus is electric and not powered by a fuel.

00:14:19:03 – 00:14:35:13
Speaker 1
Thank you. I, had all of those correct as did my son. So we’ll have him join us next time, for a little trivia. But that’s all the time that we have today. Thank you for joining us. And that’s our bird’s eye view on EV school bus operation.