Wheels: Buses, Delivery Vans and Garbage Trucks Are the Electric Vehicles Next Door


Wheels

Low-speed torque and whisper-quiet operation make electric vehicles an attractive alternative for commercial uses, and the incognito answer to Teslas and Bolts.

A 60-foot electric bus used by the Antelope Valley Transit Authority in Los Angeles County. The agency is aiming to deploy an all-electric fleet by the end of the year.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

As American car buyers cautiously dip their toes into the world of electric vehicles, pondering issues such as cost, charging times and driving range, big businesses and some government agencies are going in head first.

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority, which serves some 450,000 residents in parts of Los Angeles County, wants to be the first transit agency with an all-electric bus fleet. It hopes to ditch all its diesel vehicles by the end of the year and replace them with 80 fully electric versions.

Reducing pollutants is a high priority for Antelope Valley, which includes the cities of Palmdale and Lancaster, because the area has the highest rate of asthma and deaths from respiratory diseases in the county, according to the county health department. “This switch-over makes sense for the environment,” said Len Engel, the transit authority’s executive director.

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Len Engel, the authority’s executive director, said he expected to save $1 million per year in fuel costs alone.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

The same factors that appeal to consumers make an electric vehicle a good fit for commercial applications. Electric motors offer the low-speed torque such vehicles need, without the roar or exhaust of their diesel counterparts. And while range anxiety could be a concern for the typical car buyer, operators of buses and similar vehicles tend to stay close to home, needing a range of 100 miles or less.

Even as Tesla has promised to apply its passenger-car experience to long-haul trucking, a host of companies are already offering fully electric commercial vehicles to governments and private industries that are looking to turn mail trucks and garbage haulers into vehicles of the future.

McKinsey & Company, the management consulting group, forecasts that electric light- and medium-duty trucks — a group that includes pickups, flatbeds and some trash haulers — could achieve between 8 percent and 34 percent sales penetration by 2030. The wide range depends on market conditions: Fleet owners need parity in the total cost of ownership between a traditional diesel-powered vehicle and an electric one. And municipal air-quality regulations may spur or slow down the adoption of electric commercial fleets.

“Our latest perspective is that U.S. break-even for long haul could be between 2025 and 2030,” said Russell Hensley, one of the report’s authors.

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Inside an Antelope Valley bus. The buses are being built by a Chinese company, BYD.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times
A new Antelope Valley electric bus.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times
One of the diesel buses the agency is phasing out.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

The company is building the buses in Lancaster, and has also supplied electric buses to the University of California; Eugene, Ore.; and more. Low operating costs are a main selling point.

“Fuel and maintenance are one-third that of typical equivalent diesel vehicles,” said George Miller, BYD America’s senior sales manager for fleets.

A Thor Trucks electric semi. The company said it hoped to begin selling the model next year.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

The company has demonstrated its electric garbage trucks to City of Los Angeles sanitation officials and has a deal to sell 20 articulated buses to the operator of Los Angeles International Airport, Mr. Miller said.

While maintenance and energy costs are lower, initial purchase prices are not. BYD’s garbage truck costs $300,000, while its 40-foot bus is about $150,000 more than its diesel equivalent.

BYD is counting on rebates to cut those costs. In California, that could amount to a price reduction between $50,000 and $75,000, thanks to money available from the state’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project.

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority is receiving $46 million in state and federal funding to help buy its 80 electric buses. While some of its buses run consecutive multiple routes as far as 558 miles a day, they can be charged wirelessly whenever a route is finished, adding 20 miles of range every 10 minutes. Mr. Engel said he expected the authority to save $1 million per year in fuel costs alone.

Inside a Thor Trucks semi. The company is aiming for customers seeking short-haul heavy vehicles, such as trucks that might need to drive from a port to a warehouse.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times
A $150,000 version would offer a range of 100 miles, and a $250,000 version would be good for 300 miles.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

Other companies are running commercial electric vehicle demonstration projects and gearing up for production.

Tesla says it will make its Tesla Semi electric truck next year, with prices beginning at $150,000. And Thor Trucks, based in Los Angeles, also plans to offer an electric semi truck next year. It expects to charge $150,000 for a version with a 100-mile range, and $250,000 for a 300-mile version.

Thor is aiming for customers seeking short-haul heavy vehicles, such as trucks that might need to drive from a port to a warehouse. Those kinds of short-haul trips generate a great deal of air pollution when diesel trucks are used. But big batteries aren’t the only solution.

Siemens, the German technology company, recently conducted a one-mile eHighway demonstration at the Long Beach and Los Angeles ports using trucks that drew power from overhead wires, much the way trains and streetcars are powered.

Bus assembly at the BYD plant in Lancaster, Calif. The company’s electric vehicles range from forklifts to semi trucks.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

Overhead power eliminates the need for huge batteries and recharging time. When a truck must pass another vehicle, it disconnects from the wiring system, temporarily using a small battery before reconnecting to the wires.

“Over a 100,000-mile distance, we’d save $20,000 in fuel and maintenance,” said Andreas Thon, a Siemens Mobility vice president in charge of the project.

The company is proposing to bring such a system to the entire length of the 710 Freeway, a major corridor jammed with trucks between the bustling Los Angeles ports to the city’s rail yards and beyond. It is a stretch of highway that has been called the “diesel death zone.”

Matt Miyasato, deputy executive officer of the South Coast Air Quality Management District, the public agency in charge of controlling air pollution for that area, said there were “too many variables” for such an approach to be viable at the moment. But the idea is promising.

“If the Siemens test could be scaled up,” he said, “we’d have a zero-emissions corridor.”

BYD has a deal to sell 20 buses to the operator of Los Angeles International Airport.CreditRozette Rago for The New York Times

India School Bus Plunges From Mountain, Killing 23 Children


NEW DELHI — A speeding school bus plunged off a mountainside in northern India on Monday, killing 23 children and four adults, an official said. Several children managed to survive.

“The scene was full of panic, cries, chaos and disaster,” said Rakesh Pathania, a local politician who was at the site of the crash.

The bus, the authorities said, was carrying elementary school students from a private school in the state of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas when it swerved and fell hundreds of feet into a deep ravine around 3:15 p.m.

The bus was carrying 40 people, and the children who died were between the ages of 4 and 12, said Prabodh Saxena, the principal secretary of the state government.

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Injured children were taken to a nearby hospital by local residents.

Credit
Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

“It is not clear why the bus crashed,” Mr. Saxena said. “We have called for an inquiry.”

One surviving boy, 10-year-old Ranveer Singh, told The Hindustan Times that he heard a loud bang and the bus started rolling down the side of the gorge. “Just then the window near my seat broke and I and a girl sitting by my side fell out,” he said.

That girl, along with several other students, survived the crash. A convoy of cars and bicycles made up of passers-by rushed to bring injured students to a nearby hospital before ambulances arrived at the scene near the town of Nurpur.

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One surviving child was identified only as Nishant.

Credit
Ashwini Bhatia/Associated Press

Between 300 and 400 local residents “worked like monkeys” to rush down to the crash site and rescue trapped passengers, Mr. Pathania said. Most of the children died from head injuries or suffocation. The bus was so badly crushed that workers had to “cut open the body of the bus” with rods and stones to rescue passengers.

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India School Bus Plunges From Mountain, Killing 23 Children


NEW DELHI — A speeding school bus plunged off a mountainside in northern India on Monday, killing 23 children and four adults, an official said. Several children managed to survive.

“The scene was full of panic, cries, chaos and disaster,” said Rakesh Pathania, a local politician who was at the site of the crash.

The bus, the authorities said, was carrying elementary school students from a private school in the state of Himachal Pradesh in the Himalayas when it swerved and fell hundreds of feet into a deep ravine around 3:15 p.m.

The bus was carrying 40 people, and the children who died were between the ages of 4 and 12, said Prabodh Saxena, the principal secretary of the state government.

Photo

Injured children were taken to a nearby hospital by local residents.

Credit
Shyam Sharma/Hindustan Times, via Getty Images

“It is not clear why the bus crashed,” Mr. Saxena said. “We have called for an inquiry.”

One surviving boy, 10-year-old Ranveer Singh, told The Hindustan Times that he heard a loud bang and the bus started rolling down the side of the gorge. “Just then the window near my seat broke and I and a girl sitting by my side fell out,” he said.

That girl, along with several other students, survived the crash. A convoy of cars and bicycles made up of passers-by rushed to bring injured students to a nearby hospital before ambulances arrived at the scene near the town of Nurpur.

Photo

One surviving child was identified only as Nishant.

Credit
Ashwini Bhatia/Associated Press

Between 300 and 400 local residents “worked like monkeys” to rush down to the crash site and rescue trapped passengers, Mr. Pathania said. Most of the children died from head injuries or suffocation. The bus was so badly crushed that workers had to “cut open the body of the bus” with rods and stones to rescue passengers.

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With L Train Shutdown a Year Off, the Battle for 14th Street Begins


Some transportation experts argue that even bolder action is necessary. To encourage car-pooling they have called for banning vehicles with fewer than three people from the Williamsburg Bridge for longer than just rush hours as the city envisions and extending the ban to other bridges. And 14th Street, they say, should be restricted primarily to buses 24 hours a day to make it easier on subway riders.

“A lot of people don’t commute 9 to 5 hours,” said Kate Slevin, the vice president of state programs and advocacy at the Regional Plan Association, an urban research group. “A lot of people are traveling down 14th Street all times of the day. The worry here is you’re just going to have an inability to get around.”

For now, the biggest worry on all sides is preparing for the unknown.

“It might look all right on a computer simulation,” said City Councilwoman Margaret Chin, who represents Chinatown. “But in real life, I just can’t imagine it.”

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During the shut down, 14th Street is expected to become the busiest bus route in the country, carrying as many as 84,000 riders a day.

Credit
Julia Gillard for The New York Times

14th Street: Nation’s Busiest Bus Route

The nucleus of the city and the M.T.A.’s plan is 14th Street, which stretches from the East River to the Hudson River. During the morning and evening rush between Third Avenue and Ninth Avenue, it will be limited to buses with the exception of some vehicles like delivery trucks.

The city has a goal of ensuring that buses can cross the bus corridor along 14th Street in 20 minutes, a speed rate of over 6.5 miles per hour and over 40 percent faster than buses there travel now. But some transit experts are dubious, believing that 14th Street “will saturate with buses,” said Annie Weinstock, the president of BRT International, a company that plans and designs bus rapid transit systems and that helped produce an alternate plan for 14th Street. “Buses will queue up behind one another and become a bus parking lot.”

Ms. Trottenberg said the plan for 14th Street was flexible. “If we don’t get it right from the start we can adjust,’’ she said.

Transit experts have pushed for buses to be free to speed loading and prevent gridlock. “The only way we are going to get near the capacity that the M.T.A. thinks will shift on to buses is if we do everything we can to get people onto those buses as fast as we can,” said Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, an advocacy group.

A spokesman for the M.T.A., Jon Weinstein, said the agency had not made any final decisions about fares.

Businesses have already begun making plans for the shutdown, including shifting deliveries to overnight to avoid the crush, said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, the business improvement district for the area. On the other hand, some retailers are looking forward to the flood of new commuters. “There are tens of thousands of people who will experience the ground floor retail on 14th Street who would never come above ground before,” Ms. Falk said.

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Bus Fire in Thailand Kills 20 Migrant Workers From Myanmar


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The charred shell of the bus that caught fire early Friday in Tak Province, Thailand. The country’s roads are notoriously dangerous, giving Thailand one of the world’s highest rates of traffic deaths.

Credit
Daily News, via Reuters

HONG KONG — Twenty migrant workers from Myanmar were killed when their bus caught fire in northwestern Thailand early Friday, the police said.

The workers were traveling to a factory district near Bangkok when their chartered bus was engulfed in flames around 1:30 a.m. in Tak Province.

The cause of the fire was not yet known, said Col. Krissana Pattanacharoen, a Royal Thai Police spokesman. The authorities were planning to interview the driver, who survived the fire.

The bus was carrying 47 people, and 27 escaped with minor injuries, Colonel Krissana said. But 20 others were killed in the fire, which incinerated the double-decker bus and left it a charred shell on the roadside.

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Survivors received treatment by paramedics after the fire. While 20 people were killed, the rest escaped with minor injuries.

Credit
Daily News, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

“We are trying to identify the bodies and also trying to contact the Myanmar Consulate in order to identify the bodies,” Colonel Krissana said. “They are Buddhists, so we’ve got to send them back to their hometown for religious ceremonies there.”

Before Thailand’s military government enacted a tough law on migrant workers last June, the country had as many as three million unregistered migrant workers, many from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. The new rules, which carried prison terms of up to five years for working without legal documents, led tens of thousands of workers to return home.

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