Location: Auburn, AL
Fleet Type: University Express Services

 

Narrative

The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition (ACFC) has worked with Auburn University for over 15 years. Initially Auburn Student Transportation integrated biofuels in their Tiger Transit fleet of buses. Since then, ACFC has maintained communication and provided information to the University on available funding opportunities for alternative fuels and advanced technology vehicles. Recently the Department of Sustainability has been very proactive working with ACFC to educate students and consumers in their market about electric vehicles.  The Sustainability Department has been an instrumental organizer in the Drive Electric Alabama – Auburn/Opelika EV Owner Chapter and facilitating educational EVents around Drive Electric Earth Day and National Drive Electric Week.

Chris Harris is the Director of Transportation Services for the University. The transportation department fleet serves the 33,000 students, faculty, and related departments on and around the Auburn campus. The fleet currently consists of seventy buses, three vans and nine golf carts. Transit Service has fifty-six buses in service every morning Monday through Friday during the Fall and Spring semesters and thirty buses during the summer semester to serve their clients’ needs.

There are a total of seventy full size buses in the transportation fleet. Of the seventy, ten are diesel-hybrid powered. All other buses (60) in the fleet are diesel buses. After discussion with his peers and observing the trends on other campuses Chris started investigating in earnest the possibility of adding electric vans to the University Express Service fleet, which primarily serves employees by taking them between points on campus. On occasion the Service will bring students to outlying department facilities that can be up to five miles away from the main campus where the E-Transits are based.

In 2023, after due diligence, two Ford E-Transit electric vans were purchased directly from the University’s trusted local authorized bus vendor. No grant funding was used because Auburn is ineligible for Federal Transit Administration (FTA) or other sources of vehicle funding.

The University considers the benefits (current and anticipated) of these electric vans to be:

  • Fuel Costs: Estimated savings on fuel alone are projected to be approximately $2,500 per year per van, equating to approximately $5,000 in annual fuel savings.
  • Environmental Benefits: Lower emissions.
  • Driver Experience: Smooth ride with minimal vibration and no engine noise and reduced pitch and roll since the battery’s weight is under the van.
  • End User Experience: High customer satisfaction.
  • Vehicle Capacity: Increased cargo capacity over ICE model.
  • Maintenance Costs: The electric vans have significantly fewer engine parts that require service (no belts, oil filter, alternator, spark plugs, etc.) and the regenerative braking system reduces potential brake wear and tear and service/replacement cost.

The electric vans are charged at night in a parking deck housing the Transportation Office and utilize two private access, level 1 charging outlets mounted on the wall as pictured.

When the vans were received, training was done by Mr. Harris and his Safety Supervisor to acquaint the drivers with driving electric. Drivers were counseled to accelerate more slowly due to the high torque and immediate response of the engine. Also, drivers were counseled to take advantage of the regenerative braking feature by easing off the accelerator instead of braking hard to augment the benefits of the regenerative system thereby improving range.

Maintenance, when required, is either done by the University Facilities department or, if necessary, by the local Ford dealership.

Outputs & Outcomes

The outputs of Auburn’s efforts include:

  • the initial purchase in 2023 of two E-Transit electric vans
  • This purchase augments the Auburn Sustainability goals for the University.
  • Exposure to these electric vans is acquainting the university population with the availability of clean and quiet electric vehicle transportation services on campus.

Outcomes resulting from the addition of the E-Transit vans include:

  • To date, customer (riders and drivers) satisfaction has been high.
    • Vans have been well received as they are quieter and roomier than existing non-electric vans.
    • Drivers like the ease of driving and the power and quick response of the vans.
  • Particulate matter, GHG, NOx, and other direct health related emissions have been lowered by driving electric on campus, thereby helping the University reach its Sustainability goals.
  • Operating costs (fuel and maintenance) have been lower than their gas/diesel van counterparts.
  • The mileage driven on a van’s fully charged battery has exceeded expectations with over 40% of battery life being left after running the vans from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM daily.
  • The projected lower total cost of ownership for the electric vans may help negate the current higher initial purchasing cost.
  • The public and students are seeing the electric vans and asking questions about driving electric.
  • Exposure of the E-Transit vans at the recent Drive Electric Alabama EVent prompted excellent questions from attendees.

Best Practices & Lessons Learned

Best Practices

  • The Transportation department followed the University procurement process – engaging the Finance Department and other administrative departments before proceeding.
  • The department did its due diligence and reached out to Transportation Directors at other Universities to better understand their experience and lessons learned.
  • Training drivers is important to acquaint them with the nuances of handling and driving electric.

Lessons Learned

  • Purchasing the electric vans was an opportunity due to availability of needed models (12-15 passenger) and cost at approved vendors.
  • It is important to provide educational materials and training on electric vans to control expectations regarding driving characteristics, charging and range.
  • It is important to listen to both the drivers and the public to understand what needs to be addressed to help ensure success.

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Auburn University Fleet Story

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