Multiobus takes next step towards zero emissions in Flanders with Ebusco.

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The Multiobus electric fleet has increased sixfold at once. The Belgian bus operator, which operates in Flemish Brabant on behalf of transport company De Lijn, officially took ten new vehicles from Ebusco into service this week. “We hope to be a pioneer for as long as possible and encourage other operators in Flanders and Wallonia to take the same step,” says Olivier Van Mullem, CEO of Multiobus.

In 2018, Multiobus already was the first private operator in Belgium to purchase electric buses. At the time, it involved two vehicles from Ebusco as well. So now that the total amount is twelve, means that 12 percent of the fleet is electrified. “We intend to purchase solely electric buses from 2020 onwards. A vehicle lasts about fifteen years, so by 2035 we could be fully electric.”

Better than expected

The first step in the transition to zero emissions went better than expected three years ago, says Van Mullem. “We had planned to not set the bar too high with the first two Ebuscos 2.1, because it was a new technology for us after all. But we already achieved our target on the first day and they are still performing better than expected.” The target of 50,000 electric kilometres on an annual basis was therefore comfortably achieved.

The CEO’s confidence in the ten new 2.2s from the Dutch bus manufacturer is therefore high. “With the 360 kWh battery, we can achieve a greater range,” he cites as one of the advantages. “We have cameras instead of side mirrors, USB connections and wifi. The technical points have been greatly improved, as has the finish. It only took one and a half days to make the bus ICT-ready. Other manufacturers could take this as an example.

Plug-in charging

Ebusco was chosen partly because the manufacturer managed to market a product that matched Multiobus’ requirements, says Van Mullem. “That a reasonably simple, but solid battery bus can handle quite a lot of work. Ebusco has no history with diesel buses, so they have a head start in technology. They look beyond today and tomorrow.” Plug-in charging was his preferred option because Multiobus does not specifically focus on urban transport. “That’s why I never really believed in pantograph solutions.”

Van Mullem expects depot charging to become increasingly interesting. “Buses with larger batteries are gradually taking a larger market share,” he says. With that in mind, he says, “the lingering and waiting” on the road to zero emission bus transport may very well play to Belgium’s advantage. “But to be honest, in the Netherlands you have been able to gain so much experience in recent years,” he adds. Multiobus therefore looked not only to Sweden but also at experiences with zero emission in the Netherlands.

Challenges

“We still are only in the first phase here. Many operators are now turning their attention to what needs to be done to get one in four buses running on electricity. With ten new buses, we are only now seriously scaling up. By Dutch standards, that’s hardly anything.”

With Ebusco and Heliox, Multiobus has now found good partners in the vehicle field, says Van Mullem. “But outside the vehicles, it’s going to be a big challenge.” The transition to zero emission creates a different organisation. “How do we deal with energy? How can we work cost-efficiently so that the TCO becomes and remains interesting? We work with solar panels for the generation and temporary storage in batteries. We will also have to share some of these systems with other partners.”

Multiobus is currently participating in several research projects on charging solutions, including bidirectional charging. “We are also trying to do our part in this process. Even if we have to focus primarily on our core business: public transport. We are only a small player, but we hope to remain in the pioneering role for as long as possible and keep up with the trends and evolution towards zero emission bus transport.”

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