The ATL: On the Road Toward Fleet Electrification with Heliox

The Atlanta-region Transit Link Authority (the ATL) has made a major push toward fleet electrification. Seeking to be good stewards of Georgia taxpayers’ dollars, the agency found that its fleetwide vehicles are currently achieving 5.05 miles per gallon. The ATL conducted an exploration of the costs involved and found that it could achieve appreciable operational savings over the life of the coaches by switching from diesel fuel to electricity.

This shift is aided by the ATL’s outstanding partnership with its utility provider, Georgia Power. Furthermore, while the capital costs of electric coaches are currently higher than conventionally fueled coaches, the ATL won a competitive Federal Transit Administration’s (FTA) Low- or No- Emission Program grant for $5.4 million and was also awarded a grant from Georgia Power’s Make Ready program, which will help cover much of the capital cost.

After completing a competitive solicitation process, The ATL contracted with New Flyer and MCI (both of the NFI Group) to provide the coaches, related infrastructure, and construction services.  New Flyer/MCI proposed options for the charger/dispenser vendor, and the ATL selected Heliox for its quality product, reputation, and price.

This is the ATL’s first electric bus purchase, and it includes 10 electric coaches, 10 180kW chargers and remote dispensers, and a 50kW mobile charger that will be used in the maintenance shop. The partnership was vital to this initiative, and the ATL is grateful for its design partners at Atkins and The Center for Transportation and the Environment, as well as Georgia Power, whose contribution created the electrical infrastructure that is sized to allow an expansion for up to ten additional electric coaches without adding equipment or tearing up existing infrastructure. 

“To date, the project has gone smoothly largely because of the collaborative efforts of our outstanding partners at the Atkins, CTE, FTA, Georgia Power, Heliox, and New Flyer/ MCI,” said Jannine Miller, executive director of the ATL.

Founded in 2009, Heliox is headquartered in the Netherlands with a North American HQ in Atlanta and manufacturing facilities in Minnesota and Virginia. Heliox designs, builds, and maintains world class rapid EV charging solutions that are tailored and scalable to stay ahead of a fast-changing e-mobility landscape. Over the past two years, Heliox has deployed depot charging systems at transit operators across North America, including: San Diego, CA; Long Beach, CA; Knoxville, TN; and Montgomery County, MD.

“EV technology adds diversity to our fleet,” Miller said. “Previously, the Xpress transit system was comprised of an all-diesel fleet, making the system susceptible to fluctuating diesel fuel prices. Converting this portion of the fleet to electric coaches allows the ATL to benefit from lower electricity prices. Electric coaches also have fewer moving parts and are expected to lead to lower maintenance costs.”

Matt D’Ambrisi, Business Development Manager – Transit at Heliox, said that Heliox’s dynamic charging solution is unique for several reasons. Firstly, the Heliox system is able to charge multiple vehicles (up to three at once) from a single base charging station. That means the ability to charge in rates of 60 kilowatts, 120 kilowatts or 180 kilowatts depending upon how many vehicles are connected to a charger at any one time. 

‘The ATL deployment is just in a single one-to-one configuration for now,” D’Ambrisi said. “But the Flex 180 kW EV Charging Station is great for expanding electric operations. When you’re not utilizing the full capacity of each charger, as with the ATL, you can expand in the future. So as the agency’s electric fleet grows, all they need to do is add additional dispensers to their existing Flex 180s. This will allow them to go from their current fleet of 10 vehicles all the way up to 30, and still be able to charge with the same chargers that they have installed today.”

Furthermore, the Heliox system is renowned for its flexibility – hence the Flex 180 branding.

“We can do that same dynamic charging functionality via overhead inverted pantograph, which is of interest to very large transit operators with dense garages,” D’Ambrisi explained. “That’s a bit different than the ATL’s site, but agencies can achieve either plug-in or overhead charging utilizing a single Flex 180 base station.” 

The ATL’s conscious decision to put charging at the forefront of their agenda will net them the ability to hit the ground running as they take delivery of new vehicles and expand their fleet, D’Ambrisi said.

To support reliable operation of charging equipment, Heliox administers training either directly with the end user, or with a partner such as New Flyer. To that end, Heliox has built and developed the Heliox Technical Academy – which allows for online or onsite training at the Heliox Technology Center in Atlanta, GA. Typically, D’Ambrisi said, training is focused on preventative maintenance for the system and safety training for high-voltage equipment.

“The techs do need to have a certain bare minimum level of certification before they’ll be allowed to work on our chargers,” he said. “We have structured our training to equip and empower the existing workforce that’s onsite. We want to give them the reins to maintain their own equipment and to further develop their workforce over the useful life of this equipment.”

This dovetails with the state’s goals at large, as well. For over a century, Georgia has fostered healthy industry practices, encouraged collaboration and innovation, and positioned the state as a leader in developing and harnessing emerging technologies for the evolving automotive and mobility industry. As the electric vehicle market continues to grow, Georgia has pursued the entire supply chain, creating more than $25.1 billion in investments and 29,000 jobs since 2020. Georgia Governor Brian Kemp has said “Our goal is to become the e-mobility capital of the nation bringing opportunity to communities all across the state.”

“Given the relatively high price of diesel fuel and competitive electric rates offered by Georgia Power, the ATL expects significant savings on fuel throughout the life of these electric coaches,” Miller said. “That’s a meaningful benefit to the ATL’s financial resources, particularly when low ridership has impacted nationwide public transit revenue. In addition, these coaches reduce maintenance expenses because of operational benefits such as ease of battery recharging and regenerative braking.”