(How) Can Electric Buses be a Business Case?

At the moment, the introduction of electric buses is mainly justified for environmental reasons and political pressure. Accordingly, the transport companies expect financial support for the introduction of the new system, as the investment costs are quite high. However, the fact that electric buses can be economical over their life cycle is rarely considered. With its forthcoming report on business cases, RWTH Aachen wants to show possibilities and ways of making the systems attractive not only for ecological but also for economic reasons. To this end, detailed studies were conducted in four cities, each representing a technological concept, namely:

  • Opportunity Charging using energy from the tram grid, DC side: Oberhausen
  • Opportunity Charging using energy from the metro grid, AC side: Barcelona
  • Overnight Depot Charging: Bremen
  • On-Route Charging with Trolley Hybrid Buses: Szeged

A series of three workshops were held with the respective partners to collect and validate cost and operating data. This data was evaluated using extensive simulations to determine the total costs of ownership (TCO). These include all relevant technical equipment, but no personnel costs.

The results show that the pure demonstrations are not economical at first glance. They are characterised by high investment costs for infrastructure with a small number of buses, which obviously does not make sense. However, these are pioneering projects designed to demonstrate technical feasibility.

When looking at the electrification of an entire route, the picture changes fundamentally. The infrastructure costs are significantly reduced and in comparison with diesel buses, the lower energy costs, caused by a higher system efficiency and lower prices (especially when connecting to an existing public transport grid), become apparent. Under this aspect and assuming the same system availability, the electric bus system is already almost as economical as a comparable diesel bus.

The result for the electric bus is even better if a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) is carried out, which takes environmental costs resulting from emissions of pollutants and noise into account. The figures are based on sources from the German Federal Environment Agency and the European clean vehicles directive.