After stealing some of the ‘new product’ limelight at the 2019 BusVic show, we thought it time to take BCI’s new Citirider E electric bus out for a quick spin. After its first official media test drive we came away pretty impressed.
It’s a pretty exciting time in our industry with the changes happening in electric buses. The impetus to go electric has really gone up a gear in the past 12 months. From technology we knew was definitely entering the field to a switch in thinking that has really seen the movement from a future technology into one that’s a reality and hopefully viable for the current market.
Globally, the awareness of the effect of all we do environmentally is continuing to grow and be a daily worldwide topic of importance. It makes sense of the fast change in thinking towards electric vehicles. While we all know this change is here, it’s still early days in the development of EVs.
However, BCI was one to get on board early of this change, with the attitude of ‘get in soon and ensure you’ve got your product fully developed’.
Speaking with BCI’s Melbourne manager Cameron Millen, he explained the early transition to building electric.
“In 2012 we built three electric buses, we were the first to do that in Australia – it was a project with Crown Coaches,” he said.
“Whether it’s electric, hydrogen or zero emissions it’s definitely going to be the future, so we decided to get on board sooner rather than later. This project began two years ago and here we are today. You’ve just got to look at some of the car manufacturers; they are announcing zero-emission cars.
“In 10 years’ time or less, they won’t even be building petrol or diesel cars.
“I think there’s a big shift of operators coming on-board; we’ve noticed that in the past 12 months, there’s been a big shift. Anyone that runs a city bus is asking about electric buses. Twelve or 18 months ago there might have been a push-back and we might get one to trial or give it a go, but now they’re looking to replace fleets with them and looking at buying 10, 20, or 30,” continued Millen.
BCI senior engineer Lorenzo Eberl elaborated further: “With BCI’s links to China we are exposed to what’s happening there so it probably was inevitable as China has gone leaps ahead in electric vehicle production. In one year alone they produced 65,000 full-sized electric buses, so there’s already a huge electric vehicle history there. We can tap into that for our suppliers.” So what might be a relatively new technology here is not so new in other parts of the world.
The Citirider E was first displayed last year at the BusVic show in October, and ABC magazine first featured it in Issue 387.
This new Citirider E, though, isn’t just about the electrics, it’s a totally new look low-floor vehicle inside and out.
“Nothing’s the same as the previous model, so if you see the new Citirider expect a totally new look vehicle,” Millen explained.
BCI says it is committed to provide zero-emission buses with proven reliable technology.
“It’s my personal opinion that the electric bus will become the standard city bus,” Eberl added.
“Once people have experienced the zero-emission buses in the city I don’t think they will tolerate diesel buses anymore. There are hurdles to get across like charging stations and infrastructure, but once that is all sorted it definitely will become the standard for our bigger cities – electric is the way to go.”
From a driver perspective it’s what you can’t hear that makes the biggest impact on driveability. When Millen was asked what the biggest difference for drivers is, he said: “That’s simple, it’s quiet.”
Eberl added: “At bus stops the difference in noise levels means that we are even considering putting some noise back into them so you can hear them coming.”
Technology exists, for example, that can identify pedestrians near the bus and trigger an external audible device to notify them that a vehicle is approaching.
With any new technology, being at the forefront in its development days will mean there will be changes as we learn more about it. BCI has taken advantage of the improvements and advancements made to battery technology.
“We’ve taken two years to develop this product, but we also waited for the latest battery technology and the latest electric engine technology, so this product has the very latest technologies used. We didn’t use the existing old generation technology, we waited and it really shows in this vehicle,” Millen said.
It’s one thing to have an environmentally friendly product, but if an operator is to consider a new technology it needs to be financially viable and show that the functionality is there to replace like-for-like capacity. There needs to be more than just the positive environmental effects; numbers and figures need to add up, too.
“We would like this bus to do a very similar job to what a diesel bus does,” Eberl explained.
“There’s always been this issue about range and the weight of the battery. It’s true a battery has a lot more weight than the diesel in the tank for the same energy output, but what we’ve achieved is because we waited for the last generation of batteries to come onto the market.
“We use one of the biggest suppliers in the world for commercial vehicles. The new batteries are close to 10 per cent lighter than the last generation of batteries, so that allowed us to get the overall weight of the bus down to a level where we can have 20 standees and 45 seated passengers and 403kW hours of battery capacity.
“What this bus can do is replace a diesel bus on a run operating all day. Typically, city buses run 80,000–90,000km per year when they are new, then they generally do less as they age so on average this bus can certainly achieve over its life what a diesel bus can.”
BCI has really risen to the challenge of meeting what the Australian market demands, as with its longer vehicle life expectancy comes new challenges. It’s not always as simple as just bringing the new technology in, it has to suit what we expect and need here to work successfully.
Eberl explained what BCI is doing to meet the market demands: “The Australian operator expects buses to last longer than buses anywhere else in the world. What that means with our buses here is that you put in the best available componentry you can get so they are right for what the Australian market demands.
“With that in mind, we’ve used a lot of well-known brand names. For starters, the whole chassis and frame is made from stainless steel imported from Finland, the power steering system is a Bosch system [Bosch has taken over ZF Steering Systems], axles and suspension are ZF, which again is a respected brand, the brake system is Wabco EBS-3 with electronic stability control and the propulsion motor is a TM4 Prestolite drive system, so quality through and through.
“For the door systems, BCI has gone with Ventura. Ventura is already well established in Australian transport door manufacturing – they’re a high-quality manufacturer out of the Netherlands. They’ve got local representation here and we’ve got local technicians coming up and servicing the doors if necessary. You need good local backup for that, so we’ve chosen companies for that who have a local presence.
“The instrumentation is Continental and the multiplex system is Continental. BCI has chosen that because it’s one of these best economic and ISO-compliant driver’s environments with the latest LED screen for a driver’s display. Basically, we specked it up with top-quality, well-known brands to make it a bus that’s well looked after in Australia. Operators are comfortable with the items that are in it because they may already have some of those brands in their fleet.”
In addition, he adds, BCI chose an E1200 Thermo King for air-conditioning that was then modified with a bespoke battery cooling system that comes charged with refrigerant, so the compressor acts like a standard fridge compressor.
“Basically, if you put high-voltage DC voltage into it via the battery management system the air-conditioner runs like a fridge air-conditioner with an electric compressor, all enclosed in the one unit on the roof. Then we’ve got a heat exchanger in there to cool the batteries,” Eberl said.
“Other people don’t do that, but at the outset we went to the battery suppliers and said: ‘Guys, we want to build this with warranty long-life for the Australian market’. So, I went and got the top temperatures in some of the major cities around Australia from the Australian Bureau of Metrology and I said: ‘Give me the top temperature every day for the last 10 years’. We put all that data in a spreadsheet and sent it off to the battery supplier and two days later they came back and said: ‘I think you’re right, we need battery cooling for Australia, so we’ve included it’, just like that.”
With any new technology you need to know the capacity and life of what you’re buying into.
Eberl explained that currently BCI is talking eight years warranty or 4,000 deep-cycle recharges, but said they are expected to go for around 10 years before degrading to about 70-75 per cent capacity – considered the end of their useful life.
“It might typically be 10 years,” Eberl continued, “but it depends on how heavily they’re been used. You could also imagine that if you’re putting a fleet of electric buses in by the time these buses are 10 years old, you might say: ‘Okay, I only need them in peak hours so then I can continue with 70 per cent capacity for a little while longer’, and you can really extend useable battery life.
“I’m sure in 10 years’ time there’ll be a better battery with the same weight and more range, for example, more capacity, or lighter with the same capacity, whatever the case maybe. It’s probably a little bit too early to say you’re going to need one set of batteries in 10 years’ time and they’re going to last you exactly the same as this. It could well be that [you get] a second set of batteries in it that’s going to last you another 15 or 20 years or gives you further range.”
When asked about what the maintenance costs are like, both Millen and Eberl said in unison: “A lot lower.”
“As far as oil goes, we don’t have a diesel engine anymore, we don’t have transmission anymore, we don’t have a single fan belt. We still have oil in the power-steering system, which is electric pump driven, and oil in the rear-differential and that’s it,” Eberl elaborated on just how simplified the Citirider E maintenance is.
“On the battery side you’ve got certain regimes to follow. Once a month you have to let the battery self-balance, but there’s very little maintenance as far as that goes. LED lights are low maintenance – you don’t have globes to change. [In addition there is] a very small air filter for the air intake to the break system and you also have a dry cartridge for the brake system, which you have on diesel buses as well, but you don’t have an oil filter any more on the engine. There’s no oil changes done on the engines.”
Before we even step onto the Citirider E it’s clear that this isn’t just an updated version, it’s a whole new look. The front and rear are where you can see the biggest changes externally.
On the rear, the large centrally mounted route desto and black panelling used front and rear create a very smart European appearance. There are large LED tail lights and high-set angled indicators that aren’t like any others we’ve seen before. The front sports the same smart black and white combination.
Today’s drive started a bit different to normal, with ABC magazine in the passenger seat for the first half hour. It’s often really good to get to sit back and get a feel from a passenger’s perspective – just take it all in and watch someone else drive. We left the BCI headquarters at Hallam in Victoria and did a fair bit of highway driving.
Immediately it’s impressive how smooth and quiet the drive is. Having driven a few electric buses before, the ‘quiet’ is the most unusual feature. BCI has gone next level with quiet. The Citirider E has to be the quietest bus we’ve driven thus far.
Without engine noise every other sound would become audible – the plastic on a seat squeaking, a hand rail flexing as you drive, or the wind coming through doors or any openings. This bus was super quiet, so for BCI to have eliminated the smallest of interior cabin sounds must have taken a lot of planning and trialling to achieve. The stainless-steel frame, chassis and internal railing surely played a significant part in this achievement.
Internally, the Citirider E feels bigger. BCI says that it had done a lot of work to maximise internal space and it shows – it looks really roomy. The rear door is an extra wide out-swinging model; this eliminates internal safety screens or inward doors at the exit point that usually gives a visual blind spot for the driver. Apparently, BCI used all of the outside envelope and has taken the seating right back as far as possible to get maximum capacity, but this doesn’t make it feel crowded.
The seats used, from Ster Seats in Holland, have been streamlined and give a good overall feel of spaciousness. A great feature on the folding disabled access area seats is the cushioning underneath them, so in a crowded bus with standing passengers there is a soft surface to lean against rather than hard plastic. It’s the small inclusions that can make for a really improved, comfortable passenger ride.
The fabric inserts are also easily replaceable; there’s a clip-out system where fabric panels can be replaced if damaged or soiled. A good money-saving idea, another benefit would be the ability to easily change internal colour schemes easily if the bus was sold in the future.
The Citirider E stacked up well for driver comfort. The steering wheel is adjustable and when it adjusts the dash moves with it. This feature is great for drivers that don’t come in the average height or size range. It also has an Isri air-suspended seat with height and weight adjustments and different incline options. Both good inclusions for driver comfort.
There’s separate heating for the driver, so you can control your own environment along with the option of a system that allows the driver to keep an eye on whether they are running ahead or behind in schedule, based on GPS and the route. The screen lights up in different colours to warn or advise the driver how they are progressing. This would make sticking to the timetable so much easier for the driver and avoid customer complaints. Nice!
Another great feature up front was the large screen displaying the stops – providing useful information for passengers and improving driver and passenger safety.
The driver’s area LCD dash is impressive. It shows how much charge is left in the batteries and displays when either door is open, highlighting it in red. Everything is at the driver’s fingertips, which is great for a job that is often fast paced, with repetitive stopping and starting. No negatives at all.
The steering and braking were both very good, as were driver vision and mirror coverage. It’s an unusual drive and one that would take a bit of getting used to with the lack of cabin noise. However, once drivers get used to the quiet it would be hard to go back to a standard bus with normal noise levels. The funny thing with electric buses is that as a driver you sit there and when it’s going you do feel a slight hum, but it’s ready to go straight away – no engine warm up. Just a new way of driving and thinking, but one that we can see drivers easily getting used to.
We drove in total for two to three hours and the battery held charge really well. We were expecting to see a much greater movement in the loss of battery power. The urban driving conditions obviously really suit the Citirider E and it just requires a shift in driver thinking to understand and adapt to the new power source.
The passenger stop buttons are another good feature. They are wireless and when the button is pushed they send a message to one of the encoders that sits in the ducting, which displays the warning for the passenger. Amazingly, the force of your finger pushing the button is enough to generate the power to make them operate, no batteries required and no maintenance required. Eberl mentioned earlier they are good for two million pushes then it’s only two screws to replace them.
What clearly stands out about the BCI Citirider E is that it is way more than a bus delivered to complete a job. It’s been created specifically with our Australian market needs and different requirements considered. Yes, there is impressive overseas technology and components, but the BCI combination of the overseas technology with trusted names and brands our operators know and respect is great merging of what’s right in our industry today.
You’d have to think this philosophy is a recipe for Australian success.
MODEL: Citirider E
DIMENSIONS: Length – 12.5m; Width – 2.5m
MOTOR: Electric propulsion ECE 85; 350kW@3,500Nm
SUSPENSION: ZF air suspension with ECAS
BRAKES: Wabco ABS, ESC, EBS3 disc brakes
DRIVING RANGE: Up to 350km in urban conditions
CHARGING TIME: 3.5 hours (120kW charger)
MAXIMUM SPEED: 100km/h
BODY AND CHASSIS FRAME: 4003 Stainless steel
SEATING CAPACITY: 45 seated, 20 standing
Photography: Paul Aldridge | Video: Lachlan Keevill