Electric Shuttles are Taking Off at Airports

May 7, 2020

The thud of wheels hitting pavement jolts you awake, alerting you that you have arrived. You step out of the airport terminal, welcomed by a noisy cloud of people hailing rides and vehicles honking. As you wait, you are pleasantly surprised to be greeted, not by another loud, dirty plume of exhaust fumes, but by a shuttle that arrives in a hush. Its silence is a nice change from the deafening sound of travel you are used to.

Motivated by concerns over air quality impacts to local health and looming regulations, several airport location vehicles and equipment are being targeted to transition to technologies that will yield substantial emission reductions, such as battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Diesel buses picking up and dropping off at airport curbsides expose passengers to significant levels of dangerous air pollution. Zero emission alternatives are a quiet and clean solution that reduce air pollution, and according to the American Journal of Epidemiology, incidences of asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and other respiratory illnesses. Early adopters of electric shuttles are curbing emissions and leading the charge towards zero emission shuttle bus services.

Motivated by concerns over air quality impacts and regulations, airports are transitioning vehicles and equipment to technologies that reduce emissions, such as battery electric vehicles.

Electric State of Mind

Thus far, 29 states participate in the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) Airport Sustainability Plan. The plan includes initiatives to reduce emissions and address community needs, while promoting the economic benefits of such actions. Some states and individual airports are going beyond the FAA’s plan and adopting more progressive goals of their own, including mandates to shift to cleaner shuttle bus options.

California has taken the most progressive measures by enacting a regulation that requires airport shuttle bus operators to only deploy zero emission buses This mandate, which went into effect in 2020, applies to shuttle bus operators at thirteen state airports including Los Angeles (LAX), San Diego (SAN), San Francisco (SFO), Burbank (BUR), Oakland (OAK), Ontario (ONT), Santa Ana (SNA), Sacramento (SMF), San Jose (SJC), Fresno (FAT), Long Beach (LGB), Palm Springs (PSP) and Santa Barbara (SBA). The regulation will ultimately require that airport shuttle fleets exclusively operate zero emission vehicles by December 31, 2035.

Georgia’s Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL) has implemented its own solution beyond state regulations. Greening ATL, launched in 2016, promotes the installation of 300 chargers and conversions of commercial fleets from diesel to electric. The project is ongoing, and upon completion, the airport’s shuttle system will be completely zero emission.

Manufacturers are rising to the occasion to meet the demand for electric buses, including BYD, Phoenix Motorcars, among others.

There are 29 states participating in the FAA Airport Sustainability Plan to reduce emissions and address community needs, including the shift to cleaner shuttle bus options.

BYD, the world’s largest manufacturer of electric vehicles, provides a comprehensive suite of zero emission transit and shuttle buses. In 2017, their 30-foot battery electric models were deployed at Kansas City International Airport (KCI). This was a first-of-its kind achievement in the U.S. at the time, followed quickly by a project at LAX.

In 2018, Los Angeles World Airports (LAWA) purchased 20 BYD 60-foot articulated battery electric buses to support airfield passenger transportation. This project is expected to reduce LAWA’s annual carbon dioxide emissions by 308 tons of greenhouse gases (GHGs) annually. For an airport that transports nearly 2.5 million people annually, LAX’s move towards zero emission solutions will generate a positive and long-lasting impact.

Funding Electrification of Fleets

The road to electrifying airport shuttles starts with an understanding of the costs related to vehicles and infrastructure as well as resources required for driver and technician training.

Battery electric vehicles are more expensive than diesel or gasoline fuel vehicles. Thankfully, incentive programs exist to reduce the costs. However, these incentives are only eligible to fleets that go above and beyond existing regulations, not those that are simply seeking to meet it. Thus, it is in a company’s best interest to stay ahead of a state’s and/or airport’s rulemaking process so that funding is a viable option.

The road to electrifying airport shuttles starts with an understanding of the costs related to vehicles and infrastructure as well as resources required for driver and technician training.

Staying ahead of California’s regulations, Phoenix Motorcars and the South Coast Air Quality Management District (South Coast AQMD) earned a $3.18 million award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to replace 29 diesel- and gas-fueled shuttles at LAX, ONT, JWA, and BUR airports. South Coast AQMD combined the EPA funding with California’s Hybrid and Zero Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Program (HVIP), creating a very nice incentive package for the deployment project.

Grants Support Charging Infrastructure

Grant funding can also cover the purchase and installation costs of associated charging infrastructure, often provided by the local electric utility. For example, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power’s (LADWP) Charge Up LA Program provides a rebate for chargers for business customers. More utilities are coming online with their own incentive programs, with California’s three investor owned utilities – Pacific Gas & Electric, Southern California Edison, and San Diego Gas & Electric – each having significant funding available to assist customers to set up the charging infrastructure needed to support a fleet of medium or heavy duty vehicles.

While there are many incentives available, it can be difficult to navigate the funding landscape and determine which programs are the best fit for your operations. Fortunately, there are resources and consultants available to help you. For example, Gladstein, Neandross & Associates (GNA) offers a Funding 360 program to track, evaluate, and apply—when appropriate—for funding programs throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Incentive funding programs exist to reduce costs. In addition to traditional funding programs, fleets operating BEVs in California and Oregon can generate revenue through the LCFS program.

Low Carbon Fuel Standard Also Provides Revenue

In addition to traditional grant funding programs, fleets operating BEVs in California and Oregon can generate revenue through the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS) program. The LCFS program is a market-based compliance measure that creates economic value from low-carbon fuel technologies. Credits are generated by using clean technology. Fleets and equipment operators can generate revenue opportunities by selling their credits to regulated entities, such as importers, producers, and refiners of petroleum fuels. Washington, New York, and other states are expected to launch similar programs soon.

By generating and selling these credits, fleets can reduce their total-cost-of-ownership for the deployment and operation of zero emission technologies. LCFS credits are a great way to generate savings from electrifying your fleet, in addition to the savings that come from the vehicles themselves. Electric shuttles require less maintenance and have lower fuel costs compared to diesel over the life of the vehicle, creating savings that can go back into your business, rather than being spent on operational costs.

Demand for Electric Airport Shuttles is Soaring

The transition to zero emission shuttle bus operations may be arriving at an airport terminal near you. Now is the time for fleet operators to take advantage of the resources available to gain a better understanding of the technology and how to successfully deploy it.

Now is the time for fleet operators to take advantage of the resources available to gain a better understanding of new vehicle technologies and how to successfully deploy it.

One way to learn more about these solutions is through Advanced Clean Tech (ACT) News’ webinar series, “How Shuttle Bus Fleets are Deploying EVs,” which provides answers to fleets’ questions regarding electric shuttles. The webinars explore the perspectives of two fleet managers who have successfully deployed electric shuttles, and detail the logistics associated with timelines and requirements for site planning, permitting, and charger installation.

Recognizing the emerging trend of electrification can help your business prepare for the future, and there are incentives and technologies available now. For parking operators looking to stay ahead of looming emission reduction regulations and sustainability trends, electric shuttles are an increasingly viable solution.