Many of the new passenger vehicles we drive these days are electrified in some form, either as hybrids or full EV’s. More and more of the transit vehicles we ride on are following a greener path too, with electric and hybrid power on the rise, along with natural gas and other clean fuels. One company in particular, is flying high as an innovator of tomorrow’s clean transit solutions.

New Flyer is America’s largest transit bus and motor coach manufacturer. From three U.S. plants, they crank out 60 buses a week. 

That may not sound like much, but consider that everyone is custom-specced, available in three lengths and five power sources – diesel, natural gas, hydrogen fuel cell, hybrid, and full battery electric -- all from the same line, and the feat becomes nothing short of amazing.

We visited New Flyer’s Anniston, Alabama assembly plant, where more than 35 buses are in production at any given time. Each bus is built from the ground up, literally. Raw steel is laser cut, bent and formed on-site, then hand-welded to create each frame assembly.

From there the zigzag production line adds the huge body panels, windows, custom interiors and miles of wiring that make up these behemoths.

For its battery-electric and fuel cell buses, New Flyer uses a modular battery pack to fit in the same engine bay as diesel and CNG models. An additional battery pack can be located on the roof to maintain flexibility and usability for the bus interior, where space and floor height are critical.

Buses are even painted on-site, so they are ready to hit the streets in their new cities, already in uniform. We couldn’t help but notice an order for our home town BWI airport being readied for delivery. Though we do wish they were low-emission models, the choice of power is up to the customer, and depends on each buses intended use and routes.

IAN MACPHERSON: The industry is moving more towards zero emissions, particularly with California implementing regulations where 100% of their fleets are going to be purchasing zero-emission buses by 2030. So that’s basically mandating that the buses will be either battery electric or hydrogen fuel cell, which produces a zero emission bus.

As the industry transitions away from petroleum fuel, new flyer is going the extra mile to help fleet customers understand their clean power choices.

The vehicle innovation center in Anniston is the first research lab in North America dedicated to the advancement of bus and coach technology. The V.I.C. engages learning through interactive exhibits, simulation and hands-on experiences comparing the benefits of various propulsion systems and offering expert guidance on which will best fill their needs.

This electric bus simulator demonstrates how driving style affects efficiency and range and teaches the techniques that allow maximum regenerative braking during routine driving.

Operating cost savings for both CNG and electric drive buses can be significant, in fuel costs and required maintenance versus diesel power. Which is important since new tech and high-tech usually cost more to buy up-front.  So fleets have to do the math to make sure that over the federally-mandated 12-year life-cycle for transit buses, the ongoing cost savings and desirable energy-enviro benefits result in a wise long term investment.

Various re-charging options must also be considered for electric buses. Choices include conventional plug-in charging overnight, or on-route overhead quick-charging that can keep buses in service 24 hours a day.

IAN MACPHERSON: A diesel bus or a CNG bus can easily achieve 350 miles range, whereas our battery technology currently limits us to approximately about 200 miles range. We expect that to increase over time, as battery technology advances, and we get more energy density in the batteries.

One of the benefits of the hydrogen fuel cell is it can achieve the range of 350 miles, and as well it doesn’t take it nearly as long to charge up the batteries because you just plug it into a fuel supply station and it rapidly fills the tanks with the hydrogen needed.

With more than 65,000 transit buses serving communities across the U.S., the shift to alternative fuels in these important public fleets can have huge energy security benefits, while also helping to pave the way for many other low/no-emission vehicles both large and small.