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Zeps Electric Buses Across the United States

bAs the transportation historians have noted, for the second time in 125 years American transit is moving to electric power. This time the ZEPS battery electric bus from Complete Coach Works is leading the way by making the move economical for operations across America.

In the 1880s, city transit in America was essentially limited to horse cars that were both slow and limited in range. Cable cars showed promise because both speed and range could be improved a little, but they were still somewhat limited. Several people felt that the electric streetcar was the answer, but one source says that there were 74 attempts before a workable system was developed.

Credit goes to early electric inventor Frank Julian Sprague who ran trials on the Richmond Union Passenger Railway in Virginia in late 1887. Regular operations began on February 2, 1888 offering both increased speed and increased range over horsecars. The electric streetcars were a success and similar operations were soon started in Boston and other cities. The electric trolley car era had started and the technology was soon applied to rapid transit and electric interurban railways.

Today, we are witnessing another major movement to electric transit, but this time the vehicles tend to be battery-powered buses. The reasons for this movement may be different than 125 years ago. Pollution is a major factor since the electric buses operate much cleaner than buses using fossil fuels, although some have mentioned that in the old days the horses left their own form of pollution behind them on the streets. The new electric buses also offer economy of fuel, a smoother ride and reduced use of limited resources.

Complete Coach Works has been instrumental in helping bus operators start electric bus operations economically. For many years, Complete Coach Works has been the “go to” company for transit operations to save money by updating and extending the life of their fleets. When questioned about electric bus operations, Complete Coach Works came up with an economical solution.

Working with their sister company Transit Sales International, they engineered their Zero Emission Propulsion System (ZEPS) bus by taking an existing low-floor transit bus and rebuilding it as a battery electric bus. The resulting ZEPS bus provides advantages including an entry into battery electric bus operations at an economical price while having a bus that is highly compatible with the existing fleet. It not only reduces pollution by going to electric power but also eliminates the need to scrap an existing bus. Hence, it is a win for the transit operator and a win for society.

A Look at the ZEPS

For those looking to move to an electric bus, ZEPS offers a huge number of advantages over other alternatives.

If you compare ZEPS to other electric buses, you will find at least four major advantages. One is cost. ZEPS is easily the most economical way to get into electric bus operation. Since most of these buses are purchased using tax money, this is a very positive factor and information point with taxpayers. A second reason is fleet compatibility. Except for the drive system, the ZEPS bus is probably compatible with the rest of your fleet and you either already have parts in stock or can get them from the same source.

A third reason is based on the second. If your interest is to compare electric bus operations with some type of fossil fuel, ZEPS is ideal. It makes comparisons easy and more accurate because both buses are either the same or close enough for comparison purposes. The fourth reason for going with ZEPS is because it uses American parts and engineering and complies with Buy America provisions for funding.

What Complete Coach Works did was to draw upon years of experience in improving, rebuilding and modifying buses to come up with an economical and workable battery electric bus. It is basically a three-step procedure. They start off with a previously operated transit bus, usually 40 feet long and diesel powered. However, ZEPS buses with lengths of 30- or 35-feet are also available. While CCW can use buses from an existing fleet, they typically carefully select buses from the inventory of Transit Sales International.

The second step is to rebuild the bus shell. This involves bringing the bus up to new condition by replacing parts and components. It goes beyond that because it includes some improved and more modern systems as well as some parts and components better suited to electric bus operation. The third step comes when CCW replaces the diesel engine and related components including the transmission with a state-of-the art electric drive and companion batteries. The result is an up-to-date, fully operational battery electric transit bus at an attractive and economical price.

CCW is an expert at rebuilding buses with years of experience and highly knowledgeable staff. Most people have no idea of the depth and thoroughness of the work involved. For example, windows are rebuilt with new seals, new latches and energy-efficient glass or polycarbonate. Door systems are completely remanufactured. Safety and interlock systems are upgraded to comply with current regulations.

From there, CCW rebuilds the suspension and steering with new brake pads and air bellows plus new wheel mounts and steering wheel linkages. Existing wheel chair ramps are rebuilt to OEM specifications and related items are upgraded to comply with ADA requirements. Two wheelchair positions are standard, but other options are available.

In addition, the bus receives a new interior with a customized color scheme to match your current fleet. The standard interior is set up for 36 passengers plus standees. The final touch is new high-quality paint and graphics on the exterior. The resulting bus looks and even smells new. Because of all of this work to bring the bus up to OEM standards, it not only comes with a new title but also complies with Buy America provisions for funding.

The completed ZEPS bus will be very similar to existing fleets. It will have the usual features including power steering, air suspension, an air-operated door, air brakes, heating and air conditioning, fire suppression and a wheelchair ramp. A bike rack is optional.

It should also be mentioned that certain components on the ZEPS bus are updated or improved to bring them up to state-of-the-art or make them more compatible with electric bus operations. For example, new lightweight aluminum wheels and low rolling resistance tires are installed. The existing marine plywood floors are removed and replaced with fiberglass layers and a surface of lightweight rubber flooring. This material will not rot and is less affected by the elements.

Noteworthy is the fact that the bus is provided with modern LED lighting that not only requires less electrical power but will last longer between replacements. A new all-electric roof mounted air conditioning system is provided. This is twice as efficient as most of the older systems yet it only weighs half as much.

Of course, the biggest difference with the ZEPS bus is its battery electric drive system. Replacing the former diesel engine and transmission is a dual-wound electric motor that provides maximum torque at the start and a smooth acceleration profile. Power comes from a 311 kWh lithium ion battery pack using DC-DC converters in a single, simple box. The driver gets a modern screen display.

Other features include an advanced battery management system and an onboard charging system. Regenerative braking is provided as standard equipment to extend the range of the bus and increase brake life. There is also an intelligent telemetry system that collects all critical system parameters and allows remote monitoring and troubleshooting

ZEPS Buses in Operation

ZEPS buses are now in operation at numerous locations around the United States. Most are trial operations to test battery electric bus operations but there are some smaller fleets in regular service. Two locations are using vehicles other than standard transit buses. Most or all of them are using the ZEPS buses to evaluate moving ahead with electric buses in the future. Here are a few details on some of the various ZEPS buses already in operation.

University of Utah

A ZEPS bus had the unique privilege to be the first transit bus to operate regularly on the University of Utah campus. The university previously prevented transit buses from operating on the campus because they did not want the noise and diesel particulates disturbing their beautiful campus. The ZEPS bus was the first bus to meet this ­criteria.

The operation at the University of Utah was also different in using a WAVE underground inductive charging system. Between runs, the bus can pause at the end of the line to take on a charge from this system to extend its operating range.

University of California at Riverside

This is one of only two ZEPS applications that uses something other than a standard transit bus. The university wanted to “go green” with their Cable Car Classic 33.5-foot long trolley-themed bus on a Freightliner chassis. Originally built in 2000, CCW was able to rebuild the vehicle and then install a ZEPS battery electric propulsion system. It charges in only 3.5 hours and provides zero-emission transportation on the campus. It seems somehow appropriate that the trolley-themed design would now be operating electrically.

It is noteworthy that in May of 2014, the University of California at Riverside launched a Sustainable Integrated Grid Initiative as the largest renewable energy project of its kind in California. It involves photovoltaic solar panels, energy storage and all types of electric and hybrid vehicles including their ZEPS battery electric bus.

Ben Franklin Transit

Based in Richland, Washington, Ben Franklin Transit operates in the tri-cities area that includes Richland, Pasco and Kennewick. Their ZEPS bus operation is a demonstration project covered by funding. For years a team from the Tri-Cities area has been working with the Mid-Columbia Energy Initiative to transform the area into the energy hub for the state of Washington. The ZEPS bus was a major step in the electric vehicle arena.

The bus was assigned to Ben Franklin Route 23/26. It has frequent stops and operates an eight-mile loop at a low average speed. This route offers ideal conditions for the regenerative braking system provided on the bus. What makes the operation particularly interesting is that hydroelectric power is used to charge the batteries on the bus. Hence, this operation is easily one of the cleanest in the nation.

Monterey Salinas Transit

The ZEPS operation at Monterey Salinas Transit in California is unusual from several aspects. It is one of two places to get the ZEPS system installed in a trolley-themed bus. It also uses a WAVE wireless underground grid to power the bus, making it the first trolley-themed bus to be powered by wireless electricity in America.

The bus was paid for by a $1.7 million grant from the Federal Transit Administration and $400,000 in California Transportation Development Toll Credits. It was purchased to use on a free summer shuttle route that previously used gas-powered, trolley-themed buses. Operating from Memorial Day to Labor Day, the route connects Cannery Row, Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey Conference Center and Fisherman’s Wharf.

Along the route, the bus pauses at the WAVE charging station in the cement pavement on Taylor Street near the Old Monterey Cafe. A tablet computer on the dash tells the driver whether he needs to stop and charge the bus. Monterey Transit said that numerous people have let the gas-powered buses pass so that they could get a ride on the electric trolley. Monterey Salinas Transit was so impressed by the trolley that after the shuttle route ended on Labor Day, they put the electric trolley on Route 2 that serves Pacific Grove and Carmel.

Indianapolis Public Transportation

Corporation (IndyGo)

This particular operation uses ZEPS buses in regular, conventional city transit operations and hence is an excellent example on how the ZEPS buses can reduce both pollution and operating cost in regular transit service. IndyGo operates 31 bus routes and a fleet of about 157 buses.

IndyGo was looking for a unique approach to reduce their fossil fuel use and be creative with an approach to recycling as well. They felt that the CCW ZEPS bus had been proven elsewhere and provided for all of their areas of concern. As a result, they ordered 21 ZEPS buses from CCW.

The buses were relatively standard ZEPS low-floor transit buses. IndyGo selected the interior patterns as well as cad/avi equipment and security cameras. They also selected how they wished the buses to be reconditioned and the exterior paint. The completed buses provide for 36 seated passengers plus standees and are equipped with air-operated doors, brakes, suspension, hydraulic power steering, stainless steel bike racks, LED lighting and lightweight seats.

All buses have been delivered and are assigned to routes that operate 100-120 miles or less. Passengers are pleased with quietness of operation. Drivers mention the smoothness. Mechanics have been particularly pleased because the buses are very similar to many already in the fleet but are diesel powered. A report from IndyGo suggests that they are showing it is 70 percent cheaper to run the ZEPS buses.

City of McAllen Transit Department

Created in 2001, the McAllen system operates seven bus routes. The buses hub out of the city’s International Transit Terminal Facility where passengers can connect for several international, national, regional and intercity destinations.

McAllen ordered two ZEPS buses from CCW. Mario Delgado, transit director for McAllen, stated: “The fact that it’s a refurbished bus with a chassis we currently operate in our fleet makes it practical in terms of interchangeability of parts; it’s a great benefit to us. The ZEPS bus produces zero emissions; it’s all around better for the environment. In addition to the ZEPS buses, McAllen elected to use the WAVE Wireless Advance Vehicle Electrification system. An interesting note is that the ZEPS buses are five feet longer than the other buses in the McAllen fleet.

Gardena Municipal Bus Lines

The Gardena operation, GTrans, was somewhat unusual with a fleet of all gasoline-electric hybrid buses. Hence, they were making a move not from a diesel bus but from already partially green hybrid power. Initially, CCW upgraded one hybrid bus to a ZEPS electric bus. That bus was in service every day and so impressed Gardena that they returned to have four more hybrid buses converted to ZEPS electric power.

A spokesman for Gardena said that their biggest problem was getting the original ZEPS bus driver to give up the bus to other drivers. Anthony Cohen, facility and maintenance manager for GTrans had a comment on this. “The only problem may be convincing the driver to give other operators a turn behind the wheel of the electric bus,” he said with a laugh. “The driver won’t give it up, she loves it.”

Located south of Los Angeles, GTrans operates a fleet of about 60 gasoline hybrid buses and smaller vehicles in fixed route and demand responsive service. They operate within Gardena and neighboring South Bay communities. GTrans provides nearly 10,000 rides daily and links to the Los Angeles regional transit system.

TransIT Services of Frederick, Maryland

TransIT Services of Frederick County Maryland is also placing a fleet of ZEPS buses into regular transit service in a small community located just outside Washington, D.C. This is the largest purchase of electric buses in the Northeast area by a transit provider.

The cost of the initial five ZEPS buses and charging stations is being covered by a combination of federal (FTA), state (MTA) and local grant funding. There is a great deal of local pride in the fact that Frederick got the funding and approval prior to Washington, D.C.

The Frederick people first saw the CCW ZEPS bus at an event put on by the ­Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority. Following this, the bus was brought to Frederick so their fleet managers and mechanics could inspect it. An initial order calls for five ZEPS buses, but Frederick has an option to purchase up to four more ZEPS buses a year over the next four years. Nancy Norris, director of TransIT Services, said: “Each of the ZEPS buses is expected to save the agency $464,000 in maintenance and fuel costs over its 12-year ­lifespan.”

Clearly, the ZEPS bus is now in both demonstration and regular transit service at several locations around the United States. Information from Complete Coach Works on the ZEPS bus is available by phoning (800) 300-3751.

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