So, You Want to Electrify Your Fleet?


By John W. Nolan, CAPP

You’ve decided you want to begin to electrify your bus fleet. That was a decision I made over ten years ago, however getting there wasn’t easy. I went to numerous conferences and asked many questions to various companies and individuals in the bus fleet business and gathered as much information as I could. Interestingly enough when I first did my research, there were not many bus companies involved in this. The trend at the time was to make diesel bus engines more fuel efficient and clean burning. The industry was adding Urea filters and Particulate traps and evolved into Diesel Exchange Fluid (DEF) systems. When I did narrow the selection down, I saw that the cost was too prohibitive at over twice the price. In addition, these highly expensive machines didn’t have that much of a track record. The bus itself also needed a high-cost charging system necessary to fuel them.  As much as I tried to negotiate the price down to fit the operating budget, I couldn’t make it happen. So, I needed to be patient and wait. To continue to research, listen, observe, and let the industry evolve until the opportunity presented itself. One thing I learned a long time ago is that sometimes waiting is best. A really good mentor of mine many years ago told me anyone can purchase a product with unlimited funds. It takes a leader to know when the timing and value are right and equate to a positive return on investment (ROI).

Discussions over the years with my directors, or management classes I have given to new managers, I often referenced observations of managers who wanted to be “state of the art.” Unfortunately, I’ve seen many cases where being on the cutting edge “makes you bleed” and it’s not pretty. I’d often say, I’d rather be on the leading edge where the product, service, or technology has a good track record and has been proven to work over a reasonable period of time.

Fortunately, persistence paid off where the opportunity to get funded through a significant State grant and low and no interest loan financing became available. In addition, now with a more proven EV bus performance history with others, I was comfortable with a longer finance period consistent with a reasonable “useful life.” The first phase of our electrification was recently implemented where four EV buses and a fast-charging system could fit within the operating budget. The moral of the story is that with persistence and due diligence…anything is possible.

John W. Nolan, CAPP is managing director of transportation and The Campus Services Center for Harvard University.