February 7, 2023

The Time for the Electrification of Public Transportation Has Arrived


5 Min. Read

The Role of Utilities in Electrifying Public Transit Rideshare, Buses, Taxi, and Limousine Fleets

Utilities play a crucial role in the electrification of public transportation in America, including all forms of rideshare, taxi, and limousine fleets.

When you think of public transportation, heavy rail, subways, buses, light rail, and streetcars probably come to mind. Rideshare, taxis, limousines, and shuttles, should also be included in this list. Subway, light rail, and streetcar transit are already electrified and the electrification of transit buses is currently underway. In fact, projections point to approximately one-third of all US public transit buses being electrically powered by 2045.

Similar to more traditional public transit, rideshare, taxi, and limousine (RTL) conveyances – including Uber, Lyft, and the ubiquitous yellow cab – transport the general population indiscriminately. These modes of transport are also regulated in one form or another by state, regional, and local governments. Rideshare in particular has seen surges across metropolitan areas and often become more cost-effective than the bus or subway.

Three Modes for Charging Electric Vehicles in RTL Fleets

As these fleets grow, it is critical to have solutions for charging EVs in three major arenas: at home, in the depot, and across public destinations. There are also three different types of charging stations:

  • Level 1 stations provide up to 9 kW of power, adding approximately 3-5 miles of driving range per hour through a standard AC 110/120 V outlet. It takes approximately 18-30 hours to fully charge an electric vehicle battery using this type of station, depending on the make and model of the EV, weather conditions, and other factors.
  • Level 2 chargers use AC 240V outlets, similar to those used for residential electric dryers. With a maximum power rating of 19.4 kW, or approximately 80 amps, these chargers are the most commonly used. At this rate of power, they can restore between 12-80 miles per hour – potentially more than 10x as fast as Level 1 chargers.
  • Fast chargers operate on direct current (DC) and provide an output of up to 350 kW. They can fully charge most electric vehicle batteries in an hour or two and charge batteries up to 80 percent full in just a half-hour. However, it’s important to note that frequent fast charging can damage the batteries and shorten their life.

Let’s take a closer look at home charging, depot charging, and public charging:

Home Charging

Home charging refers to the charging of an electric vehicle at a driver’s residence each day. A Level 2 charging station is a requirement for EVs in daily RTL use, so that the battery can completely charge between driving shifts. Home charging is not a solution for taxis and limousines that are not taken home at night. If the vehicles are garaged in a commercial barn, the recommended solution is depot charging.

Depot Charging

Depot charging is a great option for return-to-base EV fleet operations. When driving routes are completed for the day, EVs are garaged at a centralized barn, where the charging stations are installed. Depot charging uses Level 2 chargers to minimize vehicle downtime. For fleets that need to recharge mid-day, Level 2 depot chargers can be augmented with DC fast-charging stations, for even quicker turnaround. Depending on the size of the system, it can take two weeks or more to install depot charging.

Public Charging

Public charging is the most expensive, and you never know if a charging station at a particular location will be vacant and available for your team to use. For most fleets, public charging is only practical as a short-term fix when the battery is depleted and the vehicle cannot make it back to a depot or home. Public charging stations also use Level 3 chargers, which can damage your EV’s battery. In consequence, public charging should be used only sparingly, when essential.

The Benefits for Utilities

New projects, including microgrids, and increased demand will reshape the energy landscape. Utilities will benefit from the electrification of RTL fleets, in part, due to the increased revenues received by these reliable long-term EV fleet customers. Increased revenues should be particularly attractive for utilities in the nation’s sunbelt, where residential and commercial consumers are increasingly becoming more self-reliant by installing rooftop PV solar arrays. This pattern has been demonstrated by years of behavioral analysis and consumer reports.

Another benefit utilities will realize with the continued electrification of public transportation is in regards to utility Scope 3 emissions reporting. Many major U.S. electric utilities, such as Duke Energy and Dominion Energy, have begun reporting these emissions as part of accountability initiatives to attain net-zero goals. These reports directly reflect the emissions generated by utility customers, and incentivizing EV adoption will reduce the utility’s Scope 3 emissions thereby helping them to achieve their goals.

The third benefit of electrifying RTL fleets derives from opportunities for vehicle-to-grid (V2G) capabilities and storage. Equipped with bidirectional EV charging technology, RTL EV batteries can provide energy storage during periods when the vehicles are idle and utility support in times of need. Utilities can draw upon this stored energy to augment the electricity they deliver to their residential, commercial, and industrial customers during peak periods or during outages. Tapping V2G resources could potentially enable utilities to avoid the need to build costly peaking plants and battery storage farms in the future. The feasibility of this solution depends on having enough time to recharge the batteries before the vehicles need to return to their daily work routes.

What Utilities Can Do to Speed the Transition

Utilities can help incentivize the adoption of EVs for rideshare, taxi, and limousine fleets. Cash incentives or alternative rates can be offered to fleet owners for the acquisition and installation of charging stations. Approval for such incentives for investor-owned utilities would need to be obtained from state utility regulatory commissions. However, the case for electrifying these fleets is strong, including as a source for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Powering Ahead

The electrification of public transport has been growing for years across the U.S. and globally, and now RTL fleets are transitioning to a more sustainable future as well as the continued growth seen in the adoption of personal electric vehicles. As the nation’s leader in electric vehicle (EV) charging solutions and with over 261,500 EV charging station installations, Qmerit is an experienced partner trusted by auto and EV charger manufacturers, utilities, fleets, commercial and multifamily owners, and homeowners.

Get started with Qmerit today and help your customers make the transition to a more sustainable future with seamless EV charging solutions for your fleet, home, or business. For assistance in creating a simple and seamless EV experience for your customers, contact Qmerit.

Author: Ken Sapp

Ken Sapp

Senior Vice President, Business Development and eMobility