Multiobus pioneers with twelve e-buses for De Lijn
Multiobus in Tienen, a group of private bus companies who joined forces some years ago scaling up to prepare for the future, shows the Flemish public transport company it is working for as a subcontractor how you can actually run a fleet of twelve fully electric city buses today. De Lijn itself is testing merely ten electric buses for the moment, out of a total fleet of 2 337 buses.
After a two-year pilot with two e-buses from the relatively small Dutch manufacturer Ebusco, the company commissioned another ten fully electric buses today. The buses have a range of 300 km and are charged overnight from a 3 MWh Tesla stationary battery solution with energy the 800 solar panels on the bus depot’s roof produced during the day.
USB ports, seat belts, and free wifi
The Ebusco 2.2, a 12-meter long city bus for 90 passengers, has a standard 350 kWh battery pack that could be upgraded to 400 kWh. The standard pack showed in tests to be sufficient for the e-buses to run all day on one charge. Consumption is on average 0,7 kWh /km.
Apart from air conditioning, electric heating, and heat pump, the buses are equipped with USB ports at all seats and free wifi for the passengers. A feature that school children will much appreciate. A luxury you will hardly find today on public transport buses in Flanders.
For safety, all seats are equipped with three-point seat belts that have to be worn to be effective, naturally. Another feature is the rear-view mirrors replaced by cameras and screens for the driver, which give a better sight in all weather conditions and at dark and should help avoid so-called ‘blind spot accidents’.
Tesla stationary backup battery
The buses are charged at the depot overnight with a slow ccs-connection on Heliox charging infrastructure but will be able to fast-charge soon with an inverted pantograph too. The electricity is mostly produced during the day by 800 photovoltaic panels on the depot’s roof and stored in a Tesla stationary battery of 3 MWh capacity on site.
The Tesla battery allows Multiobus to store its own green energy or draw from the grid when needed. But at the same time, the battery is available for the grid manager to stabilize the net when needed.
Others to follow?
Flemish Minister for Mobility Lydia Peeters (Open Vld), who was the guest of honor together with Tienen’s mayor Katrien Partyka (CD&V) and De Lijn CEO Ann Schoubs at the inauguration of the new fleet on Tuesday, was clearly pleased with the private initiative taken by Multiobus in Tienen.
For her, Multiobus is a ‘forerunner in the e-bus story’ she wants to be rolled out all over Flanders by 2035, with an even stricter deadline in 13 Flemish inner-city centers by 2025. Something Ann Schoubs, Director-General of De Lijn, told the minister earlier to be ‘impossible to achieve’ in that short notice.
The Multiobus project shows, according to the minister, that even in rural areas, the total cost of ownership (TCO) of electric buses is ‘getting close’ to that of diesel buses. And she hopes the example will push the other subcontractors of De Lijn to follow.
The fact that the Flemish government didn’t have to invest a penny itself is so much to the good. The whole investment is made by the private investors themselves without subsidies, eventually made possible with the help of the banks that allowed long-term leases of ten years, as Multiobus CEO Olivier Van Mullem explained.
Actually, the plan matured after five small local private bus operators decided to join forces and scale up to face future challenges. Those five are Autobussen P. Van Mullem from Boutersem, Van Mullem & zonen from Tienen, Atlas Cars from Rocourt, and Demerstee and De Vlinder from Diest.
Skipping the step of hybrids
The new company, Multiobus, runs a fleet of 100 buses of all sizes as a subcontractor for the Lijn in the Flemish Brabant region from depots situated in Boutersem, Wijgmaal, Budingen, Tienen, and Diest. Besides that, the company has a fleet of specific school buses and 12 luxury coaches too.
According to CEO Olivier Van Mullem, after a first successful test in 2017 with a fully electric bus – a Belgian first at that time – they decided to skip the step with hybrid buses (which turned out to be not so reliable as wished) and to go for 100% electric.
Two times more expensive
Van Mullem explains that as a city bus’s lifecycle is typically 15 years, they realized they had to start acting now to comply by 2035 with the Flemish government’s goal for zero-emission public transport. A bus like this costs about 518 000 euros, compared to 240 000 € for a diesel bus. A bus company can only earn back that difference on the long term with lower operational costs.
Ann Schoubs, who just took over from Roger Kesteloot as CEO of De Lijn beginning this year, admitted she ‘couldn’t be but jealous’ on the achievement of her subcontractors. But finally, De Lijn is going in the same direction. Last week the board of directors of De Lijn approved an order for 350 electric buses, including charging infrastructure, an investment that will cost the company between 190 and 230 million euros as a start.
She emphasized that the first 60 e-buses will be delivered by the end of 2022 but warned that all kinds of things enter into this too, like far more charging infrastructure, more bus depots, and the necessity to retrain the staff. The electrification of the total bus fleet of De Lijn by 2035 would cost 3,2 billion euros, Schoubs confirmed on earlier occasions.