FALLING INTO LINE – INTERLINE BCI CITIRIDER E-BUS

By: Fabian Cotter, Photography by: courtesy BCI + BusNSW , Video by: Fabian Cotter


On course to be the second largest e-bus operator in NSW, Interline’s initial 10-vehicle fleet in 2021 kicked off with its first BCI Citirider E delivered for south-west Sydney, recently. Owner Joe Oliveri took some time out for ABC magazine to talk all things electric bus and where the industry should go from here – and why.

FALLING INTO LINE – INTERLINE BCI CITIRIDER E-BUS
“Our vision as a company was to design and build a zero-emission bus that could replace a diesel bus in terms of operational requirements, driveability and passenger experience," said BCI Victoria state manager, Cameron Millen.

If you’ve been around the traps long enough and have the appropriately thinning grey hairs to prove it then you might recall a series of mid-’80s automotive lubricant television commercials with the catchy catchcry "Oils ain’t oils".

The cheeky Capone-vibe message delivery not only ensured it remains deeply rooted in the nostalgic memory banks of the kid viewers of the day, but underscored the simple and logical warning that not everything is as it seems, or that not all products and services – in that case car oil – performed equally as many might foolishly hope for.

‘You get what you pay for’? Well, kind of something like that.

Applicable in all kinds of realms, the highlighting of such difference is equally at play in the rapidly emerging world of zero-emission buses (ZEBs) and sundry ancillary technologies such as batteries, charging infrastructure, air-conditioning system optimisation or hydrogen city bus applicability. Even how effectively drivers are trained to drive them optimally. This means that discerning choice of all components could prove many an operator’s greatest (i.e. cost prohibitive) challenge.

And it is these types of insights and erudite bus-purchasing advice that can be gleaned when talking to long-established local bus operators like Interline’s Jo Oliveri.

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INITIAL RESULTS

"The minister announced that he wants 8,000 buses to be electrified by 2030 – but 90 per cent of the operators wouldn’t have a clue what they were buying, nor know what they are trying to buy," Oliveri stated.

"I don’t think they’ve researched it enough and if they did their research it must be different to mine," he added curiously.

"I was really into hydrogen, but then I started looking into it – and it’s not about the cost of the bus and the cell; it’s about the continuation and the price of hydrogen and how to make hydrogen.

"If you get hydrogen off a by-product of something else and it’s cheap enough, hydrogen is a way to go for distance. But in saying that, this 12.5-metre BCI we are testing out on all the shifts we are doing has so far already done a double shift and it came back with 30 per cent power!

"Other people have said ‘well, how many kilometres [distance] does it do?’ Well, sure, the more kilometres a bus does means the more energy it needs to do it because it’s actually pushing the motor, but I don’t care how many kilometres it does because, for me, my diesels are for two shifts, which means the driver changes over at Macquarie Fields or they do a quick changeover in the yard at Leppington.

"The bus is out for 16–18 hours, so I don’t care how many kilometres it does because I know the shifts call for x-amount of hours. And that’s all I have got to worry about.

"I have to make sure it goes out, does the second shift, and has enough power to get back to the yard. And so far the one we tried, the BCI with 422kW batteries, it went out at 6.00am, it came back just before the second half for about an hour, and it went out again and came back at 10.30pm – that’s close on to 17 hours, right?" Oliveri analysed.

"So that’s it, that’s my basic game. Now, if I was doing Nightrider I would expect the bus to do three shifts because I know the modern diesels can do that, but two shifts does me, and so far it’s showing promise."

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DRIVER TRAINING

"Only this morning I was out showing the driver how to drive it because everyone – including the Chinese and the Aussies [manufacturers] – don’t know how to conserve [battery] energy; they are expecting the driver training to help do all this, depending on [the driver] putting their foot on the brake or taking it off for regeneration, depending on how you want to configure the bus," he explained.

"I did an experiment and I put in a driver that I told - but didn’t harp on about - conserving energy to ‘keep it in the green’ and that way we’ll get two shifts out of it, right? The first driver did what he had to do for half an hour then forgot what he was supposed to be doing and just pounded the crap out of it. And even doing that the second driver – a more conservative and conscientious driver – took it out for the second part of the shift from 2.30 in the afternoon and finished at 9.45 that night – and he was wrapped [to get back with charge].

"There’s other little things that operators have to be careful of with an electric bus. Technically, as far as I know, all electric buses when it’s got 100 per cent charge won’t regenerate for the first 2 per cent of discharge because ‘it’s got nowhere to put the charge’ – and that’s where the electronic brakes become the throttle, feeling a little bit more like a standard bus."

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POWER CONSUMPTION

"Air-conditioning is a major, major part to this [electric buses]. The Thermo King that’s on this one took about an hour and half to get down to a set temperature on a really hot day we had here when I had the bus out for eight hours. It took a lot of energy to get it down initially. I asked ‘can we have it drop down fast then let it stay 1-2 degrees around the desired temp? Just like a housing cooling/heating system? If you come into your house from 40-degree heat without the air conditioner on it’s going to struggle to bring it down to a set temperature, right? But if you turn that air conditioner on in the morning when there is no heat, that air conditioner will bring it down to a set temperature within 5–10 minutes and sit there. That way, like in a house, when you know it’s going to be a hot day you turn the air-con on early, so then the floor is cold, all the furniture is cold, the roof is cold – and it’s the same with a bus.

"The energy that the seats absorb, the steel in the bus, it will take the heat. Then as it’s cooling down it’s going to release that heat. But if you can actually get the bus to be cool before it [the day] actually gets hot then it [the air-con] doesn’t need to really do any ‘work’. Ultimately, even with those conditions the BCI would come back [after two shifts] with 30 per cent power."

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BATTERY COOLING

Oliveri explains that while driving there is virtually no noise at all other than from air conditioning because on the BCI it actually cools the batteries. Interestingly, if the batteries get too hot the air conditioning will override and just cool the batteries, which is only for around 10 minutes if you are lucky, he says. Whereas other systems, different technologies like solid state must be kept at a certain temperature, which he says go into a liquid state at about 60 degrees.

"Driveability? The BCI handles really, really well. It’s really stable. You wouldn’t have a clue there’s a tonne and a half of whatever it is on the roof. I don’t know what the new Yutongs are like, which I haven’t taken for a drive yet; the old test Yutongs used to sort of swing a bit because of the roof pod.

"The 12.5-metre BCI is just like any other BCI. With everything non-European, I don’t think the turning circle is as good as the European buses, but I’ve been guaranteed the next one we get will have that turning circle in it because I can’t get them around all the roundabouts we have in our area," he laughed.

"But overall the only thing drivers have to do at the moment is keep it in the green and make sure you get the maximum efficiency [out of it]."

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TYRE WEAR

"The BCIs have the motor at the back of the bus. They’ve got a standard diff, a standard tailshaft – but they haven’t got a transmission. Whereas [other e-buses] have wheelhub motors – and that’s an issue for me," Oliveri stated.

"It wasn’t at first, but I started researching and found they wear out back tyres and they wear out front tyres quicker than a normal bus – about 50 per cent faster than normal," he said.

"Why? Not because of weight or the acceleration [e-buses are fast if not limited], but because it hasn’t got a differential; buses like the BYDs have the motors in the hubs, so that means that a computer has to control turning circles. So if they don’t get that right then one tyre is going to push another tyre and it’s going to push the other tyre and naturally it’s going to wear out quicker. So that’s one of the main reasons I didn’t want to go out and buy $600 tyres.

"Volvo (I’ve seen one of the Volvo e-bus chassis), BCI, Custom Bus, Bustech – they’ve all got a motor and no transmission (except for the Volvo) and a tailshaft to a normal diff."

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CHARGING COSTS

The key for operators as they transition to ZEB fleets is how to save electricity.

"Once I told my provider what rates I would be using, the rate tumbled down because we are expecting to use about 1 MegaWatt per year for 10 buses. We estimated we’d be using about 300kW per day average on each bus and when we did this bus on full double shifts we actually pumped into it 279kW. And because I haven’t got my electricity yet – my 2,000 amps – it took nine hours to charge because if I charged it any faster I would have blacked out the place," he joked.

"I have the certification to do that and now I’m in the process of getting the contractor to bring the power to the yard and once that is in and the new substation is put in I’ll have 2,000 amps. And from then on, once I get up to about 25 buses I’ve got to work out which way I’ve got to go: do I bring in another source of power from the substation around the corner – which is big dollars because they’d have to run cables just to me. That cost will not be subsidised by the government. That kind of thing will be part of a tender," he explained.

"So there are a million ways to approach this [charging delivery]; I’m looking at bringing in 1,000 MegaWatt containers, with one MegaWatt I could probably charge 30-odd buses, so if I replace all the fleet and do those too I’ll have 120-odd buses and all of them will be at Leppington very soon.

"Or do I get 4,000 amps from the power station? How much does that cost?  To bring 2,000 amps in here, which has no infrastructure, there’s no footpaths, there’s no rural roads here, there’s nothing here; I can get it in for about $230,000.

"And then the infrastructure inside the yard, the chargers are worth about $55,000 each. To get that fixed for five chargers was $29 grand. The cabling alone was $22,000.

So, a switchboard to get the 2,000 amps in was $28,000. And for every two buses you need one charger.

"Five chargers means they are ‘double guns’; you can plug two buses in, and they are only 120kW chargers and that’s all you really need. You can go up to 180kW chargers, but if you pump 180 into one bus you have to have liquid-cooled guns and cabling because then it gets too hot. So at 60kW per bus that’s about five hours to charge – which is not bad."

The software in the bus is also key he says for efficient operation.

"The software I’m looking at actually recognises the bus. It knows a bus has ‘this much charge’ on it when it comes in. It then works out which bus needs more power and charging time and the rest can wait until they are ready to be fully charged," he explained.

"To do this manually you’d have to have people here at 2–3 ‘o clock in the morning making sure buses are getting charged.

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AC VS DC

"Everyone [operators] seems have gone out and bought these BYDs with AC charging and I’ve asked questions around why that is being allowed to happen when the whole of Europe is going DC [charging] with two guns on it. Why go against CC2 [combined] charging in Europe when that’s going to be the mainstay? Even Yutong is CC2. BCI is CC2. Mercedes-Benz, Scania, Volvo, MAN, Bustech – they are all CC2 charging. And I’m hearing BYD is changing over to DC charging anyway, so why are we [Australia] buying all this AC charging?" Oliveri raised.

"People say that AC charging will charge quicker – um, no it won’t! Both DC and AC charging count on how many kilowatts per hour the bus can take. If you don’t have the right amperage coming into your yard, it isn’t going to charge any bloody buses.

"The reason I applied for 2,000 amps is when I applied for 500kW from the substation they [the electricity provider] gave me a price, which turned out to be about the same for 2,000 amps. 

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"They are insisting on going underground, but with the roads to be widened in about five years I reminded them they would only have to dig it up again, which is a waste. But they said their policy was to simply go underground whenever they could.

"So that’s the kind of thing other Australian operators will have to be dealing with and consider when it comes to running an e-bus fleet, along with prices of batteries [expected to reduce as more adopt the technology], how many years they last versus how technology will change [performance/battery size] over that time, plus how they are looked after via charging them properly [batteries need to be balanced – slow charge rates at the start and end of the charging cycle ensure they supply power consistently across the board]," Oliveri explained.

"Balancing could take up to 15 hours in winter. Batteries will not actively balance themselves if not fully charged – who can afford to have buses not running for 15 hours?

"But overall, for our first e-bus, the BCI is finished well. Suspension wise, we got underneath and had a look at the welding – it was really, really good. And all the drivers who have driven it have given it a big tick so far."

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FIRST BUS OFF THE RANK

For Australia’s Perth-based BCI, the delivery to Interline of its Chinese-assembled, European componentry Citirider E e-bus (curiously designated EV Citirider for Interline, but we are assured this was just the way the destination sign was set up) marks its first Australian operator delivery of this model on these shores, which is a key feather in BCI’s cap for local bus industry acceptance, given the strict Transport for NSW Panel 3 requirements that needed to be met.

"BCI has a long history of building clean energy buses being one of the pioneer Australian manufacturers to build both hybrid/electric and full electric buses back in the late ’00s," said BCI Victoria state manager, Cameron Millen.

"The latest BCI Citirider E has been a two-year project and was heavily centred around R&D. Taking the learnings of those early days we spent a lot of time researching products to ensure we had the latest, and highest quality componentry available.

"Our vision as a company was to design and build a zero-emission bus that could replace a diesel bus in terms of operational requirements, driveability and passenger experience.

"For the most part, the passengers and driver wouldn’t know they were on an electric bus; the big giveaway is just how quiet and smooth the Citirider E is.

In terms of current NSW e-bus running requirements, Millen explained: "The BCI prototype electric bus was designed and built as a TfNSW panel bus. NSW currently has the largest uptake of electric buses, so it made sense to build the bus to this specification. About the only changes to the EV that ABC magazine tested and the one we delivered is the livery and the addition of the Opal ticketing system. The passenger seats were also changed due to the customers’ requirements.

"With regard to the mirrors, this is something the operator has changed after delivery. BCI hopes to offer this option in the future once testing and approval has been done."

In terms of delivery times, Millen stated: "The build times for the EV are quicker than a diesel bus. This is mostly due to lead time of components – engines from Europe, transmission from Europe, etc."

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POINTS OF DIFFERENCE

So what is the Citirider E’s advantage over its marketplace rivals? Millen explained: "Basically weight, dimension and battery capacity.

"We have one of the lightest e-buses on the market built to 12.5 metres – not 12 metres [meaning increased seating capacity] with 403kW of battery storage [currently completing in excess of a 16-hour shift with about 30 per cent charge in reserve]." Oliveri confirms this, stating the bus will do 16 hours and that Interline has tried it already on a double shift.

"This allows the operator to run the bus on a double shift and only need to charge overnight using off-peak electricity," he added.

"We can supply individual bus chargers, or in the case of large fleets we work with some of the larger supply companies that provide large-scale fleet systems."

"It is also worth noting that BCI are the Australian service agents for CATL batteries. CATL are one of the largest battery manufacturers in the world. Their batteries are found in many brands of EV vehicles from cars, trucks and buses – including the BCI Citirider E," he explained.

"We are hopeful the product will be taken up by the other states."

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INTERLINE’S FLEET

Though the BCI is the first electric bus for Sydney’s south west region – run by Region 2 operator Interline – another nine Yutong e-buses are due throughout 2021, and possibly a Custom-Denning Element to come, sources reveal exclusively to ABC magazine.

The ‘quieter and cleaner’ bus journeys in Sydney’s south west will see Interline’s new electric BCI Citirider EV bus initially operate on routes 859 (Carnes Hill to Edmondson Park) and 858 (Oran Park Town Centre to Leppington), Transport for NSW confirmed.

The BCI e-bus is capable of running for up to seven hours on a full charge, TfNSW explained, while (at the time of print) the first two of the remaining nine Yutong electric buses have been delivered (presently at Wales) with the remainder due to Interline by the end of the year, we hear.

ABC magazine video footage of the new BCI bus in action around Leppington Station gives the electric-bus uninitiated some sense of how quiet this BCI e-bus is in action. Surprisingly, a BCI spokesperson confirms that, for safety, that sound is an external artificial noise to alert pedestrians, which cuts out at 30km/h.   

NSW minister for transport and roads Andrew Constance says it is one of more than 50 new electric buses being delivered across Sydney this year.

"Five electric buses have already been trialled in Sydney’s inner west and now it is time for customers in the south-west to start reaping the benefits of this amazing technology," Minister Constance stated.

"We are one step closer to creating a greener, cleaner and healthier future for the people of NSW, with inner-west customers and staff already giving us positive feedback about the quieter journeys.

"The NSW government is committed to transitioning its 8,000 diesel buses to zero-emission technology and I have previously set Transport for NSW the goal of electrifying the fleet by 2030."

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ABOUT INTERLINE

Interline Bus Services in NSW provides school and route bus services in Campbelltown, Minto, Raby, Macquarie Fields, Ingleburn, Bow Bowing and Liverpool, it states.

The company operates scheduled bus services in Sydney Metropolitan Bus Region 2.

 

 

 

 

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