The electric bus wave is upon us and cities are very eager to use them to paint a greener face. Companies such as BYD and Proterra are taking center stage and bitterly fighting for this new lucrative market. In fact, both romanced the city of Long Beach in California (my home base) for some time. The BYD K9 edged out the latter, so we are exploring it in more detail after joining for its maiden trip.
Long Beach California, The Progressive Californian City
Long Beach is known for many things in the US, but one thing it is rarely known is for being a very progressive city at the forefront of alternative energy. As far back as 1972, the city had started to diversify the energy sources for its fleet vehicles by embracing liquefied natural gas, LNG. We won’t get into LNG, but should you need a refresher, Wikipedia gives a good overall description of it.
Pretty soon, Long Beach switched many of its street sweeping and other official vehicles to CNG. What’s interesting to keep in mind is that it happened a year or two before the 1973–1974 petroleum crisis that caught the US by surprise. I interviewed the then city manager Carlos Velasquez who proudly told me in an interview back in 2008 that the city was continuing its alternative energy push.
Back then, Long Beach was one of the first to hack its official Toyota Prius cars into plug-in hybrids (PHEV) with the Hy-Motion kit. Remember these guys? And the then Mayor, Bob Foster, who came from Southern California Edison, was the only mayor to my knowledge to drive his original-series Toyota RAV4 EV to work. To say Long Beach is unique and progressive is a slight understatement. And yes, I’m partial. I live here.
BYD Wins With Long Beach Transit
Ken McDonald, the CEO of Long Beach Transit (LBT) gave a presentation of the BYD K9 electric bus to kick off its use and explained why the city chose the bus. Although technically still a program, the BYD K9 demonstration has been very positive so far. The few bus drivers I spoke to said it handles better than the regular diesel hybrid buses the city has been running for over a decade. We eventually took its maiden test drive for the Long Beach Rotary club with fanfare.
Long Beach Transit is a nonprofit that only serves Long Beach. It has an operating budget of $86 million and offers 26 million rides per year. It currently operates 250 buses and 4 vessels. Yes, you can take a few taxi boats to visit the Queen Mary from various locations.
The BYD K9 Has A Trick Up Its Sleeve
So far, the city has committed to buying 10 BYD K9 electric buses. The price of each hasn’t been officially revealed. In order to conveniently operate these buses, the city is committed to installing 10 EV charging stations. But the part that surprised me the most about the BYD K9 buses is that their fast-charging system is carried onboard and works with AC, not the more conventional DC. There is a lot of controversy about whether to use AC or DC for fast charging. As you can also imagine, there’s also a lot of politics involved, and where politic is involved, so is lobbying. BYD stands behind its choice to use AC for fast charging.
And did I mention how quiet it is? The only noise was the cheerful discussions the Long Beach Rotary club was having. Short of the AC compressor working in the background, you have to stand over the rear axle of the bus in the back to hear the familiar whine of the electric motor.
I spoke to Mike Conner, in charge of training Long Beach Transit on the K9 and its operation. He told me the advantage of an AC system is that it can be plugged into almost any industrial 480V outlets straight off the grid. DC systems, however, require dedicated fast-charging stations that convert the grid AC electricity to DC. Those stations start off at $40,000 for an entry-level one and beyond for more sophisticated chargers. AC charging means the city can charge its buses anywhere along the route where a high-voltage station can be found. It also means the charger is onboard and not at dedicated locations. This means BYD’s AC charging solution is highly flexible for fleet managers.
This makes the BYD K9 a user-friendly bus that also saves money on infrastructure, maintenance, and operations. And since we’re talking about infrastructure, we don’t expect bus drivers to casually get out of the driver’s seat at a bus stop and handle a 480V fast charging cable many times a day. BYD and Long Beach chose the WAVE wireless charging system, for that task.
BYD K9, Technically Speaking
A few other aspects surprised me about the BYD K9. For one thing, it only weighs 30,900 lbs — compared to an LNG Bus, which weighs in at 32,000 lbs. The K9 seats 42 and is electronically limited to 60 mph with a range of 120 to 150 miles. Most buses in Long Beach average 80 to 100 miles a day on a normal route. A full AC charge takes anywhere from 3 to 4 hours. The battery pack is under warranty for 12 years and is then recycled by BYD.
What does this mean as far as usability? McDonald told us 78% of most bus routes are less than 100 miles. This means the K9 can handle most routes without any problems. It also means the WAVE induction system should boost its range further at bus stops, or as drivers switch off. The BYD K9’s usability is indeed impressive.
A few other features LBT promises to install are a wireless charging system for cell phones as well as a new Wi-Fi system. As far as the security inside the bus, there are a few cameras linked wirelessly. And for even added security, LBT has contracted 8 police officers permanently dispatched from the Long Beach Police Department.
Long Beach Chose The BYD K9 For A Few Reasons
It’s obvious by now the K9 comes with a few tricks up its sleeves. Compared to the wear and tear maintenance and servicing of a diesel hybrid bus, the initial cost and energy consumption more than makes it up in a few years of operation, according to McDonald. Although we don’t have all the numbers yet, the reason is that it is difficult to predict the price of petroleum and electricity in the near future. All things considered, the onboard amenities, such as wireless charging and Wi-Fi, as well as the AC onboard charger and its low operational cost, means the BYD K9 has a lot going for it.
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