IndyGo Charges Ahead with Red Line Upgrades

Link Transit battery electric bus in Wenatchee, WA pulls onto charging pad. Photo by Raffi Garaboushian, BYD

by Thomas P. Healy

To allay concerns about new electric bus battery performance, IndyGo has entered into an agreement with bus manufacturer BYD to pay for wireless charging infrastructure installation.

“We think this is the best possible solution to fix vehicles that aren’t meeting the contractual range of 275 miles on a single charge at zero degrees,” said Bryan Luellen, IndyGo’s vice president of public affairs and communications.

According to the agreement, [PDF] BYD will absorb the costs to retrofit the six K11 60-foot buses that have already been delivered to IndyGo for servicing the Red Line bus rapid transit (BRT) route. The retrofit on the bus undercarriage includes the installation of charging pads and a battery management system that controls the charging process. An electronic guidance system that integrates with the standard BYD graphical screen will also be installed in the driver’s cockpit to monitor battery status and charging levels.

Additionally, BYD will install three charging stations along the Red Line and Purple Line BRT routes. Luellen said IndyGo is currently looking at sites to acquire. “We want to control the real estate,” he said. IndyGo has established a location at Fort Benjamin Harrison for the Purple Line but has not finalized Red Line charging stations. Luellen says there will be one north and one south.

The agreement with BYD stipulates that IndyGo is responsible for obtaining the necessary construction permits, securing electrical service, and paying the utility bills for the charging stations.

Innovative Technology

With the Red Line expected to be the nation’s first all–electric BRT system, installation of the inductive charging pads is a continuation of IndyGo’s ongoing commitment to innovation and efficiency. IndyGo plans to operate a 100-percent-electric bus fleet by 2035.

Micheal Austin, BYD North America’s vice president of U.S. operations, said the wireless system charges at 300 kW very efficiently with up to a 90 percent transfer rate. “We feel confident with this solution since it extends the range up to 30 miles if you charge the battery for 10 minutes.”

“Drivers don’t have to get out and plug in,” he continued. “They just pull up on a dedicated lane and charge the battery while sitting there. BYD has added a layer of confidence by adding a little bit of range capability of the vehicle.”

IndyGo’s Luellen said charging will occur during layover time at the end of every route with no passengers on board. “We’ve developed a solution that won’t interrupt transit service,” he said, noting that the charging strategy is expected to maintain the Red Line’s 10-minute peak service “at no additional cost to taxpayers.”

The charging system is manufactured by Momentum Dynamics, which is headquartered in Malvern, PA. CEO Andrew Daga said magnetic induction charging is safe and reliable. [video] “We can transmit energy from the pavement-installed power transmitters to the vehicle-installed power receivers across water, ice, snow, mud, and gravel as easily and efficiently as we do across an air gap,” he said.

Daga points out that the only moving part in the system is a fan in the power cabinet. “This makes the system exceptionally reliable and inexpensive to maintain,” he said. “Unlike cabled charging equipment, there are no wires, insulation, or plugs that break or wear out from repeated use.”

Charging can take longer in cold weather if a battery cools down from lack of use. “The best way to deal with cold weather is to incrementally charge the battery multiple times per day so that it remains warm and full,” he said.

Judging by comments from other transit companies, the charging system has proven its value to other BYD customers across the country.

Demonstration Project

Since 2017, the Regional Transportation Agency of Central Maryland in Howard County has been using three BYD battery electric buses (BEBs) it acquired with the help of a Federal Transportation Administration innovative technology grant.

According to Howard County Office of Transportation planning manager David Cookson, “Our program was 100 percent funded by FTA as a kind of demonstration project.” This included installing a Momentum Dynamics wireless charging system.

“As with any new technology, integrating the bus and the charging system is a challenge but we got it worked out and the system works well,” he said. A local mall serves as a transit hub where the charger is installed. “The three buses come back there every hour or 30 minutes and do top-off charges,” he said.

“Generally the charging system is up and running all the time. We’re pleased with the system Momentum Dynamics put in. It has high uptime,” he said. Momentum Dynamics monitors the system from its headquarters through a wireless network. “They pull reports and do whatever they need to do,” Cookson said. “They’ll know immediately if something happens and if they need to send a technician.”

California Dreaming of Zero Emissions

Michael Gold, head of marketing, public affairs, and customer service for Long Beach Transit (LBT), said recently that the transit company has set a goal of establishing a clean fuel vehicle fleet by 2020. “Southern California has air quality issues, so absolutely we’re looking at BEBs because of zero emission goals.” He said 10 BYD BEBs were put into service in 2016 and LBT has an option to purchase 14 more.

“We envision a future of many more BEBs and part of that is testing out technology,” he said. BEBs were deployed on the Passport—a free downtown circulator that serves major tourist attractions. “Originally, we didn’t have them running on our long routes. That was done deliberately to test out their range and capability and also because being in downtown they’re highly visible so the community can see them.”

Last year LBT installed a charging system like the one slated for the Red Line, and Gold said the combination of BEBs and wireless charging has worked well enough to prompt some route changes. “This summer, we’re going to be utilizing BEBs on more than the Passport route now that we have a better sense of the distance buses can travel with a booster charge,” he said.

Wireless in Wenatchee

Todd Daniel served as technology manager for Link Transit in Wenatchee, WA, when it installed a 200 kW wireless charger from Momentum Dynamics in 2017. “We’ve had wonderful success with the charger,” he said, “Maybe one failure in the year and a half it’s been in operation.” [video]

According to his experience, winter weather doesn’t affect performance. “We’ve had 3 to 4 inches of ice build up on the intermodal platform and it makes no difference. Three inches of ice or a foot of snow doesn’t hamper the magnetic field whatsoever,” he said.

Without any moving parts, Daniel said there are hardly any maintenance costs for the system. “There are some maintenance checks but it’s all controlled electronically. Engineers at Momentum Dynamics continuously monitor it. We did a two-year warranty with them and could extend the warranty but we’re not going to because there’s no need for it.”

Daniel retired last year after nearly four decades working predominantly in transit maintenance and now serves as a transit consultant to his former employer as well as other clients. “After 36 years in public transit I can say that this is the game-changer in battery electric technology,” he said. He noted that IndyGo’s system will benefit from the second-generation unit, which is rated at 300 kW. “Same design, more power,” he said. “IndyGo made the right choice with Momentum Dynamic chargers. They take the stress out of the organization in dealing with range.”

Time Is Tight

With the Red Line slated to go into service in September, the time for installing retrofits is here. Bryan Luellen said IndyGo has commitments from BYD and Momentum Dynamics. “They understand this has to be done before the ground freezes,” he said.

BYD North America’s communications director, Frank Girardot, said, “BYD is going to pay for the buses to be retrofitted and it has to be on IndyGo’s timeline.”

A version of this article appeared in the June/July 2019 print edition of the magazine.

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