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Case Study

Optimizing EV fleets for challenging topographies

Learn how Optibus’ Variable Discharge Rates feature helps transportation providers manage electric buses in steep and hilly areas.

January 19, 2024

Overview

Electric bus management differs from operation to operation and city to city. Through a design partnership with a public transportation agency in the United States, Optibus developed the Variable Discharge Rates feature, a unique solution for electric vehicle (EV) operators facing unpredictable battery discharge rates, particularly because of hilly terrains. The solution enables Optibus users to factor in discharge rates per route and route direction, increasing the predictability of how much charge buses need to complete routes, improving charging practices, and making EV operations much smoother.

Background

This public transportation agency (PTA) for a mountain town transports more than two million residents and tourists alike across the area’s hilly terrain throughout the year. The agency is in the process of electrifying their services with the goal of having a 100% electric fleet by 2025.

The Challenge: Impact of topography on discharge rates

At the time of writing, the PTA has already transitioned one third of its fleet to electric buses and is nearing the 50% electric milestone. Electric buses add unique complexities to any operation, but the PTA has one specific location-based challenge: the impact of topography on battery discharge rates.

Driving up and down the region’s steep, mountainous terrain, the agency faced dramatically different discharge rates depending on whether the route direction was uphill or downhill, since buses use significant energy to climb steep inclines, resulting in high discharge rates, but expend very little battery power when gliding downhill.

Factoring in topography, route direction, and differing discharge rates into EV planning and operations is key to ensuring buses have enough charge to complete their scheduled block.

“When your bus is going both uphill and downhill, a single ‘one-and-done’ value that determines so much for your operation doesn’t make sense,” said Kanaad Deodhar, an Optibus Solutions Engineer.

Optibus' Electric Vehicle (EV) Scheduling product helps users design a more efficient EV operation that accounts for charging variables.

The solution: Collaborating on a Variable Discharge Rates feature

Optibus and the client worked in partnership to collaborate on a discharge rates solution that responds to the topography challenge posed that hillside operators face. Their insight helped to shape the development of Optibus’ “Variable Discharge Rates” feature, which gives EV fleet managers the technological tools needed to manage the impact of topography on discharge rates and charging schedules.

Part of Optibus’ EV management product, the Variable Discharge Rates feature enables platform users to set charging rate exceptions based on vehicle direction, and suggests “optimal discharge rates.” So, instead of a single discharge rate per vehicle, each vehicle can have multiple discharge rates based on topography and route direction.

“The client brought a fresh set of eyes to the table, pointing out opportunities to improve the product and support EV operations,” said Kallista Wilson, an Optibus Solution Engineer.

“They nailed down an important part of our vision around EV planning and scheduling: Having more realistic scheduling of mixed and electric fleets that takes into account real-life considerations. This way, our plans can be more actionable and precise, thus narrowing the gap between the schedule and the actual operation,” said Oded Tsamir, Optibus’ Director of Product Management.

With this feature, operations become smoother and more data-driven. Users can factor in discharge rates per route and route direction, increasing the predictability of how much charge buses need to complete routes and improving charging practices.