Innovative urban development: What electric buses and bus rapid transit systems offer

Cities and mobility service providers are facing great challenges: The growing urbanization leads to increased traffic congestion. In this interview, product planner and manager at Daimler Buses, Thomas Tonger, explains how Daimler Buses contributes to tomorrow's livable city.

Mr. Tonger, you are responsible for product planning and management at Daimler Buses. What exactly are your tasks?

We are active in a very dynamic environment with market requirements and technological parameters that constantly change. In addition, new competitors, which may have an impact on the market situation, enter the market. A company which strives to be the best must very precisely know and analyze the expectations and wishes of their customers. For example, before and during the introduction of our fully electric eCitaro city bus, we talked with transport operators throughout Europe – from Scandinavia with its freezing winters to cities like Barcelona with its extremely hot summers. We looked at e-mobility through the eyes of our customers. In this way, we were able to reconcile the ideas of the transport operators with the technical possibilities in our projects.

What do you expect from a livable city?

In my view, cities are worth living in if they can combine an intact environment with an excellent mobility infrastructure. This means a lot to me, us city dwellers need fresh air and public spaces for personal expression. At the same time I attach great importance to multimodal mobility, either with my own car, shared services or urban public transport.

How do you and your team contribute to improving the quality of life in cities?

The focus of our work is on developing low-emission and emission-free drive systems and bringing them to the market. One success we are particularly happy about is the eCitaro, our first fully electrically powered city bus. Another important aspect for us is to provide advice on transport systems. This means that we assist cities and municipalities in building up so-called Bus Rapid Transit Systems (BRTs). These systems contribute to a sustainable improvement of the traffic situation and air quality in cities.

And how does a BRT system work?

A BRT system is created by the interaction of five elements: a separate driving lane, barrier-free entry, pre-ticketing, priority at traffic lights and a particularly prominent bus design. If all these aspects are in place, the bus can keep its promised speed – and therefore maintain its attractiveness in urban traffic. Furthermore, people passing by immediately recognize it as a special means of transport: fast, comfortable and safe.

What are the advantages compared to conventional subway and urban rail systems?

From my point of view not only the speed, but also the time it takes to realize it, is to be emphasized. One good example of this is Istanbul. While the construction of a 50 km long BRT line took three years, it took eight years to construct and 8-kilometer metro line. Furthermore, a bus system is much less costly to implement and much more flexible in terms of the urban planning than a rail system. Thus, the advantages are quite obvious.

What should the charging infrastructure for public transport ideally look like?

In the case of city buses, we distinguish between depot charging and decentralized charging at (destination) bus stops. Depot charging takes place mainly overnight. This system has the advantage that no complex charging infrastructure, which might become redundant at some point due to continuously increasing operating ranges, has to be constructed outside the bus depot. Furthermore, an infrastructure for decentralized charging requires approvals and construction activities in public areas and thus also the corresponding planning lead times. However, decentralized charging can also have advantages depending on the bus operating range, the city's topography and other factors.

How is the eCitaro configured, can it be charged by both methods?

The charging technology of the eCitaro is adaptable to the individual wishes and needs of the transport operators. Charging via a connector is envisaged when series production begins. If a transport operator requires a longer range, and therefore interim charging, the eCitaro can also be charged using a roof-mounted pantograph. Thanks to our intelligent modular concept consisting of battery and charging technology, we are not only able to configure the eCitaro precisely to the individual needs of an operator, but even to suit individual routes.

How are the demands on urban public transport changing?

We see the greatest requirements by far arising from the trend towards e-mobility. In Europe alone, the population of battery-electric buses is set to increase to over 2.500 units this year. For the future this means that various European cities will only buy low-emission or emission-free buses. We assume that in 2030, over 70 percent of all newly registered city buses will have an emission-free drive system. The driving forces behind this trend are legislation on CO2, regulations on air pollution in cities and the desire for noise reduction in metropolitan areas.

What are the challenges of shifting to e-mobility in the bus sector?

Under ideal conditions, the current eCitaro achieves a range of over 250 km. Customers not only want reliability, but also the longest possible range and, above all, a range that can be calculated consistently over the entire year. In an electric city bus, the climate control system can double or even triple the energy consumption during periods of high temperatures and during periods of freezing cold. So our colleagues in in the development department optimized the range by drastically reducing energy consumption with a new thermal management concept. Even under unfavorable conditions, the eCitaro is therefore capable of a range of 170 km. The charging process for these buses is also a topic we are working on. The time needed to charge electric buses is many times that required for diesel refueling. Moreover, bus depots with a larger number of electric buses require a new energy supply that includes transformers and charging points. The power requirement of an e-bus is comparable to that of 75 households.

How are we approaching these challenges?

In order to best prepare our customers for the challenges, we have formed an e-mobility consulting team. These experts are able to provide advice to our customers when they switch to electric drive systems. At the same time, we are working on making the eCitaro perform even better, so as to give planning certainty to our customers: As early as next year, we will equip the e-Citaro with a solid state battery which has a considerably higher energy density. This development will further improve our range. Solid state batteries enable around 70 percent of relevant routes to be covered.

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