Interoperability: the future of BEB fleet ops at scale

Published September 29, 2023 in Blog

Have you ever stood on the most famous roundabout in Paris, with the iconic Arc de Triomphe towering overhead?

It is a sought-after vantage point and selfie opportunity for tourists. A dozen lanes of traffic swirl past on every side, while the architectural landmark stands resolute as an unchanging hub at the centre of this constant movement.

The dawn of public transport’s EV era places bus businesses in a similar position to these tourists. Instead of the circling traffic, operators are surrounded by multiple systems which must be connected and coordinated to utilise your shiny new Battery Electric Bus (BEB) fleet effectively and maintain service delivery standards.

So what of the Arc de Triomphe itself? Here your Despatch system, such as our TIMS solution, enters the picture as the hub of your operations, the central source of truth required for executing an electric bus schedule.

Our industry faces a new world of BEB planning and operations, placing more emphasis on software interoperability than ever before. Multiple systems will be required, including Planning and Scheduling, Despatch, the BEB charging management system, and onboard telemetry technology. It will be vital that they ‘talk’ to one other to streamline operations and minimise the impact of change on your current processes.

As we head to Adelaide for BIC it is clear that some organisations have a vision for how they will move forward, while others are weighing up the best way to proceed. A degree of uncertainty within the sector is understandable, so let’s consider the possibilities of this future state to see how your business, and your technology partners, might embrace change while minimising disruption.

Your operational ‘big picture’

In a dynamic operational environment like a bus depot, it is inevitable that unforeseen issues will arise on the day. This may be heavy traffic, temporary diversions, an on-board incident, or a road accident. These scenarios contribute to late running, an outcome that impacts vehicle allocation schedules and flows through to charging management in BEB fleets.

In the early phases of transitioning to battery electric vehicles, this is one of many operational variables that may be handled by experienced team members. These staff will benefit from the safety net offered by the large number of Internal Combustion Engine (ICE) vehicles still operating from your depot.

But as the proportion of BEBs in your fleet grows, so will the number of pain points that emerge when disruptions impact your charging plan on the day of operations. The diminishing percentage of ICE vehicles in your fleet also means the safety net will become too small to save the day.

Unless you can access unlimited electricity capacity and charging infrastructure at your sites, the Ops team will require a charging plan for the day of operations to ensure your BEBs are adequately charged and ready to go when required. Your Despatch system defines the desired windows of opportunity for BEB charging, and your charging management system validates the plan based on variables of time and charging capacity, as well as operator preferences such as minimising peak electricity costs.

However, the charging management system cannot form the critical path dictating your fleet availability and vehicle allocations. This approach would fail to consider the operational ‘big picture’ which must incorporate service level KPIs, driver availability, maintenance schedules, and other business imperatives.

Instead, the new world of efficient BEB fleet ops management will run optimally when your charging management and Despatch systems communicate, so the charging plan can be validated, monitored, and updated in real time as part of an operational vehicle schedule.

Enabling interoperability

The charging plan is determined based on BEB availability between despatches. As BEBs are allocated to despatches, the TIMS Despatch system will have the ability to pass departure and arrival information, including times and anticipated battery states of charge, to the charging management system to initiate the charging plan validation process.

When multiple despatches for the same BEB are planned, the charging management system should calculate whether there is sufficient time to restore the vehicle to its required recharge level for the subsequent despatch. A virtual handshake between systems will give your Ops team the green light to proceed as planned.

If vehicle allocation and charging plans require adjustments in response to a disruption, the charging management system should recognise instances when these revisions allow insufficient time to charge a certain vehicle. This would trigger an alert that TIMS can intercept and display in the Despatch screen, so the Ops team can adjust the vehicle allocation plan accordingly.

The interoperability enabled by TIMS allows the systems to speak to one another, ensuring services are unaffected and passengers waiting at their stop will look down the road and see a bus approaching on time.

To succeed, your central Despatch solution must act as the information hub to set and execute the overall plan. This involves coordinating all available dataflows by facilitating efficient systems integration.

The ability to integrate effectively with Despatch should be one of the key considerations for operators evaluating their new charging management system options. It is important that your other chosen systems can also deliver data to your operations platform.

I suggest this integration conversation is one you should have with any prospective technology providers, to ensure this principle of interoperability is supported at all levels.

Evolving alongside you

So what can you expect from your technology partner in this changing environment? The reassuring news for TIMS users is that the familiar solution you rely on today is evolving to meet your needs of tomorrow.

As we listen to customers and consider the future state for bus businesses, I’m pleased to share that Trapeze will introduce additional features to support you and your fleet’s changing requirements.

The first phase will involve enhancements to the data import received from the Planning and Scheduling system to identify appropriate blocks of service work for BEBs and the associated start and finish states of charge values.

Once work has been allocated to a BEB, TIMS will communicate with the charging management system to validate the charging plan as part of an operational vehicle schedule. This includes requests for charging allocations and vehicle availability alerts on the day of operations.

In addition, onboard telemetry integration will enable TIMS to monitor and record each vehicle’s battery state of charge, the kilowatt hours of energy consumed, the kilometres travelled, and the charging cost.

As a result of feedback we have received, you can also expect scheduled service bookings to be triggered automatically according to the kilometres each BEB has travelled.

Minimising the impacts experienced during your transition to BEBs and their associated charging systems will deliver significant business value for TIMS customers, as will using the Key Performance Indicator visualisation for your Day of Ops team.

Let’s connect at BIC

I hope this insight into the future state for TIMS has provided you with one less variable as you consider the merits of competing charging management products that will be a necessity for BEB fleets in the years to come.

With the BIC National Conference almost upon us, I’m looking forward to connecting with customers and colleagues to discuss these new system requirements and operational imperatives that define our shared road ahead.

Will you be at the Adelaide Oval for BIC? Connect with me on LinkedIn to let me know so we can continue this conversation, or visit the Trapeze website to read more about our TIMS solution.

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Meet the author

Bennett Humphries

ANZ Bus Senior Product Manager, Trapeze Group

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