S1E6: Electrifying Shuttles

May 27, 2021

Andy Keeton

VP Global Strategy

Between the Lines S1E6: Electrifying Shuttles

with Bobby Lauterjung


Why will Electrifying Shuttles save the planet?

In Part 1 of our Between the Lines mini-series on the future of shuttles, we speak with Bobby Lauterjung, Sustainable Commute Director at BusUp, about the importance of preparing for shuttle electrification today (tip: electric shuttles are here!).

And check out Bobby's favorite commuting songs on our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify.

  • Colors - Black Pumas

  • Motion Sickness - Phoebe Bridgers

  • Can I believe you - Fleet Foxes

Episode transcript:

-(Voiceover) Commutifi presents Between The Lines with Andy Keeton. Each week we explore the challenging issues transportation demand management professionals face on their journey to transition commuters from driving alone to more sustainable, shared, and active commuting habits. Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify. This is Between The Lines with Andy Keeton.

-(Andy Keeton) Hey, everyone. Thanks for being on board today. Today, we have a really exciting podcast episode for you all. This week we're talking with Bobby Lauterjung. Bobby is the sustainable commute director at BusUp. It's a global provider of shared shuttle programs that reconstruct the traditional business model to reduce costs while enhancing flexibility and efficiency. Bobby's also the founder of Streamline Sustainable Mobility, an advisor to multiple mobility companies including; commute and fleet labs and was recently elected as communications chair of the young professionals in transportation. And in 2020, Bobby was recognized for all of this great work as a recipient of acts 40 under 40 award and that's not all. Bobby's got a great resume here. Prior to BusUp, Bobby also worked at Ford motor companies, micro-transit company, chariot, and before starting here as well he was the co-founder of e-line mobility. So, Bobby we're super excited to have you onboard and you're bringing a wealth of knowledge. Thanks for coming on.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah. Thanks, Andy and thanks to the Communifi team. Happy to be here.

-(Andy Keeton) Awesome. So today, Bobby's going to be talking to us about why electric shuttles are going to save the planet. I am super pumped about this conversation. So let's just get this started off Bobby. Tell me a bit what is your thought when I say electric shuttles? What's the story there? What are we...What should we be imagining?

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Sure... yeah. So electric shuttles are obviously, all the craze and we've hit the tipping point where the world no longer wants to buy the new iPhone because the new one's coming out in two months and what I mean by that the traditional combustion engine that is being run globally is now antiquated and so the world is figuring out how best to transition to zero-emission vehicles and that doesn't just include the fleets themselves or the vehicles themselves but it includes a variety of other things that are required in order to stand up a successful electric vehicle program beyond of course, what consumers can buy from themselves from Tesla and others as well. But when we talk about electric shuttle programs, 2021 is really going to be the year where we hit the tipping point and so we're excited to talk a little bit more about that today.

-(Andy Keeton) That's exciting. That's really cool. I'll say I’m not in the electric shuttle space so I know I’ve been hearing news. It's been jumping around. That's pretty exciting. 2021, we are here. They are. They're here now. Electric shuttles are here and they're here to stay obviously. So I love electric shuttles. I mean, it's straightforward. Why are electric shuttles great? They offer this carbon-free future for commuting for this large group of people. So tell me a bit, what does an electric shuttle program look like? And maybe also who's the best candidate. Who is this really for who should be thinking about electric shuttles?

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah, I can really appreciate that question because it's certainly not for everybody today. Ideally, electric vehicles holistically will become a commodity globally not too far in the distant future but today that's just not a reality. The costs will come down but for now, they're not. They're not down but first, let's take a step back and let's start by quantifying where we are today because when you talk about decarbonization, Andy this is really important. I know it's important to Commutify. It's important to BusUp and it's important to all the companies that we serve around the globe. So when we talk about the globe, globally 13.2 billion metric tons of co2 are produced annually with the traditional today, the combustion engine which is somewhere around 40% of the world's carbon pollution. With building emissions accounting for almost about the same and if I recall correctly industrial manufacturing accounting for that final 20% or So and more specifically here where we live in the US, the EPA has identified that the carbon emissions that come from transportation, the sector holistically. That's daily commuters. You and I that may be driving our car. Hopefully, you and I aren't the ones driving our car but it also accounts for the transportation of goods and things of that nature as well. So that's a holistic piece of the pie. Now, 29% of the United State's emissions is significant and that's why it's so important that we focus on them. So you know why will electric vehicles save the planet, how do they save the planet, and who are they, who is really the customer or who is who are they most appropriately available to serve today as it were and really, what that comes down to is that within the zero-emission vehicle landscape, You have multiple different types of fleet opportunities that are being considered to convert to. The first is last-mile delivery vans. You have employee shuttle school buses or other passenger transit. You also have light duty-sedans, medium-duty sedans and trucks and then heavy-duty trucks as well. All of these are electrifying. Not to mention that you can go and buy a Tesla yourself as well as a consumer. Today, we're going to focus a little bit more on the passenger piece, the passenger transportation piece, the employee shuttles, school transportation things of that matter because it's the most impactful piece of the pie that we can focus on. Given that it's a shared mode and we're moving the most amount of people with the fewest amount of vehicles. So when we talk about who is in the best position to be able to take advantage of electric vehicles today, we're going to be looking at corporate employers at corporate business parks, property management companies. These folks that have reached the tipping point and no longer want fossil fuel-dependent vehicles because they understand not only the environmental impacts but the financial impacts because electric vehicles while they do have an upfront cost that can be scary to swallow. The numbers almost always pencil out from a return on investment perspective within the first several years and that's why a lot of these private entities that do have the resources to be able to convert are doing so today but one thing that bus up is doing that we're really excited about is we are democratizing access to electric shuttles by standing up what we called; shared shuttle ecosystems. What does this mean? Well, when we look at a really expensive Airbnb, Andy you and I maybe want to go celebrate new year's eve with some friends post-covid or pre-covered. Right? We find an Airbnb online for 4000 bucks a night. I don't know about you but I’m not going to pay for that but if we go and we get eight other friends and we split the price, now we have a very cool place for a very affordable price. I’m spending less at this 5000$ a night holiday or Airbnb than I would be at the holiday inn down the street. Right? Excellent value. We're applying the same concept to electric vehicles. Electric vehicles have a high upfront cost but if we can have employers come together and share in the program where we see an increase in ridership and utilization, an increase in ROI but a decrease in program costs because those costs are being diluted between employers. This makes electric vehicles and the things that are required to go along with them in order to stand up a successful program which is the management the infrastructure, of course, the fleet vehicles and so many more things. All of these things need to be placed in a nice easy box that is affordable and achievable for any organization and that's really what we want to see happen over the coming years.

-(Andy Keeton) Wow! Okay, you as always...Bobby, every time I talk to you you are the consummate salesperson here. You are always selling me on a great idea. You are like...I’m coming out of this thinking; Okay, yeah...I thought electric shuttles were the deal now I’m really pumped about this. You threw out so many things here. Obviously, huge emissions savings from electric vehicles generally but the shuttle specifically just the fact that more people can use them kind of at once. I know people here listening or watching us in that TDM space. There's a lot here. There's a lot of different aspects of TDM and throughout the show, we're gonna be having on guests talking about this kind of stuff like first last-mile delivery. Things like that but the shuttles are exciting and I think the thing that really jumps out of me is what you were just talking about democratizing this electric vehicle thing and once again, I really like this Airbnb example you've put together.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) And something else to note too is that you know for these companies when you ask you know who really is it that, that is in a position to take advantage of these electric vehicles today. We address who are they but even more specifically the folks in California, New Jersey, and actually Washington today passed an electric vehicle incentive bill which we're really excited about here in the Seattle region. You know states across the country are offering incredible incentives that will time out. Meaning now is the time to take advantage of these programs. Especially, with the program that Volkswagen is currently doing and some of the other federal incentives that currently exist here in the US. The time is definitely now but what is beyond acquiring the vehicles I want to talk again about what is so important about these electric vehicle programs which is that it's not only about acquiring the vehicles themselves. They're the operators historically have been the ones to fulfill inquiries into things like new vehicles such as; you know liquid propane was a really popular environmentally friendlier as we like to say fleet vehicle choice there for the last several years and you know those even liquid propane, the conversion of that fleet for the shuttle operator was relatively simple when compared to zero-emission vehicles, the infrastructure, the driver training the regenerative braking training for the drivers, for example, there are so many layers of the cake that need to be addressed that a shuttle operator or a corporate employer that has an employee shuttle program, for example, they are unlikely to be able to find everything they need in one place which is why BusUp is trying to do that.

-(Andy Keeton) Wow! So yeah there's a lot here to do. I mean if you're trying to provide an electric shuttle, there's a lot to think about. That's clear. You've brought that up and this is why you know if you're a TDM professional you know don't go at this alone obviously. You want to be talking with people like Bobby to figure out exactly how you bring this shuttle in but it makes sense and what's exciting here is there's also an equity piece because often we say; oh! you could hit zero emissions by buying a Tesla but obviously, most people can't afford a Tesla but large companies can bring in these vehicles. This is what I’m hearing from you Bobby let me know if this is what you're trying to say. They can bring in these vehicles and they can really democratize it going back to that word you're saying and make it. So it's available for people who can't afford but obviously, probably want to have this electric kind of transportation choice. Now, they've got it because they're using the employees sponsored or the business park sponsored shuttles. Is that kind of what you were saying?

-(Bobby Lauterjung) That's absolutely right. I mean at the end of the day as cities...it's fantastic that cities and transit agencies across the country and the globe are electrifying their fleets. That will happen as time goes on hopefully the rate at which they are converting to electric will accelerate but where Commutify and BusUp and you and I Andy can make the most impactful difference is by helping to empower the private organizations that don't have the kind of subject matter expertise in-house that a transit agency does in order to understand how to actually accomplish and do these things and even for a company that could be a large tech company that has a satellite office. For example, in a city like Austin, Texas, or Denver which don't have many headquarters that have many satellite offices. Right? I think Austin's obviously becoming a headquarter city. Very quickly. Yeah, what's that?

-(Andy Keeton) Oh, I totally agree. Austin, Denver those are the places to be right now and you're putting.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) They sure are. They sure are. If you bought a house a couple years ago you're probably doing a pretty good shake. In Austin for example, we are working with a couple of large employers to anchor an electric shuttle service for which then we will be working with the neighboring employers to conduct outreach where they can purchase tickets on, for the empty seats that exist on those that anchor employer shuttle. Now, what does this do? Well, that anchor employer... Let's say that they want to go electric but when they see the quote, here's what it costs to go electric and here's what it costs to remain diesel...Pretty difficult to work with your shuttle operator to overcome those upfront investments. Right? Theoretically, if the corporate employer who does have the resources can fund those upfront investments but recollect by extending the program to their neighboring employers, they can recollect and offset those programs making the conversion to electric more affordable. Does that make sense, Andy?

-(Andy Keeton) I love that idea. That makes perfect sense and it's honestly...it's a great idea and this is why electric shuttles are this amazing solution because it keeps coming back to this idea. You can do so much more with a shuttle program than you can with a personally owned vehicle and I think it's a great idea, it makes perfect sense. So, I’m an employer. I’m listening to this. I’ve got some you know a shuttle program in place with you know a traditional non-electric shuttle here and I’m now... I know I’ve been listening to this. The technology's here I could start doing something today maybe but I don't really I have no idea what I can do. It's exciting I’m not quite sure. What could I be doing right now? What should I be doing right now? As an employer to prepare for you know bringing this system onboard or think about to make sure I put together the right electric shuttle program for my employees and maybe even also for the community around me.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah. Yeah absolutely. So traditionally organizations with a need for shuttle services typically have gone directly to a shuttle operator. Right? seeking quotes seeking bids etc. They speak. They speak their use case and collaborate with that operator to design said service and implement and manage said service and generally speaking any additional resources such as; vehicle maintenance. Such as tech transportation management software. Such as a mobile app that shows the employees real-time ETA. Things like that. Those things are generally recommended by the operator based on their familiarity with that particular product and their relationship with that private solution. Now, what where this becomes a challenge is that, those clients very few of them can turn to their shuttle operator today and say how do we convert to electric because the fact is Andy that the operators don't know. The other hard reality is that there has been very little support for the ground transportation industry throughout the pandemic and funds are as tight as they could ever be for operators across. Not only across the country but again across the globe, which means that they don't have the expendable income to put forward what is needed in order to modernize their business. Right? So they're strapped. These operators are strapped for cash and don't have the even if they have the pun intended drive to transition to electric vehicles. They may not have the financial resources or means to be able to do. So today this is where we see really large corporate companies. The fortune 100. Fortune 500 companies stepping up, understanding these costs, fronting the costs and then working through programs like the one that we mentioned where you recollect from the neighboring employers to help offset the costs and make these things more achievable. Now because those shuttle operators are unaware really of what are all those things that are needed. Is it a transportation management system? Is it charging? Where do we stage these vehicles? When planning said service en route, we need to know if there's a 27% degree hill up to your corporate campus. That is going to reduce the range of the vehicle. So if the range of the vehicle is 150 miles and you have a 27-degree hill up to your campus for several miles. Think again you're not gonna be able to get the kind of range out of that vehicle that you think and in week two you're gonna realize oh wow! we need to go buy two three electric vehicles and now you're quadrupling your costs because again not just a vehicle for every vehicle there's infrastructure and management and other things that come along with it. Our goal at BusUp is to pre-package the holistic electric shuttle program to more or less provide an EV shuttle program in a box. We do this by working with our OEM manufacturer partners. Such as arrival lightning motors, pro terra, and so on. Whoever those might be as well as providing end-to-end management solutions that really take clients and their shuttle operators from diesel to electric seamlessly leaving really no rock left unturned. So that's really what we're trying to accomplish with the electric vehicles by unifying things and making the critical thinking piece of how do we do this. Very simple to follow.

-(Andy Keeton) Wow! that's cool. I mean that's a really cool thing because I’m you know as I’m listening to what you're talking about I know... I mean it's obvious once you say. Of course, if there's a hill then yeah you need a completely different system in place because the range isn't going to be the same and this is kind of stuff that I wouldn't think of and I think probably a lot of listeners here and viewers here it's not you know we're not all-electric vehicle technology experts. So going out getting that help, talking with the people who know what needs to be done and what needs to be looked at, that's the key. And so really electric shuttles...Yes, electric shuttles are going to save the planet but it's going that next step. It's how are electric shuttles you know...how is electric shuttle preparedness? How is having a whole program around electric shuttles going to save the planet and I think you're just answering. I mean it this is a really exciting interesting field so before we finish up I just want to see if you have... I’m going to throw you out this question see if you can give us a good answer but what is an emission savings possibility. If someone shifts...Let's say a company has a traditional shuttle program in place or maybe they don't have anything they just have people driving alone, if they want to implement an electric shuttle program what kind of emissions do you think they could be looking at? Is this a big savings or kind of a smaller one?

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah, it's big. It's the short answer is it's big.

-(Andy Keeton) That's the easy answer.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah, no. It's good and you know when I say that the savings are big, I don't mean only for emissions and carbon. I mean financial savings for the organization as well. So there's really a two-prong approach here. So the price of EVs almost always pencils out where the average program cost advantage is somewhere between 15 and 20 percent over time because of the vehicle depreciation not being as much of a factor because the maintenance is different on an electric vehicle. The maintenance cost themselves for similar reasons or the same reasons. The fuel costs of course. The price per from the utility companies. We always when working with a client for example, in California right now. We're working with a client in the bay area where we are speaking specifically with PGnE to understand what is the price of electricity for them. So that we can then turn around an accurate quote and say this is typically the column that we put diesel in. Right? And all the other combustion engine columns here's your electricity budget now. And if you see, the utilization going up and the price going down it becomes quite clear around year two year three that this is going to provide large savings. Now, that's from a financial perspective. From a sustainability carbon emissions perspective, there's a case study that was put out by Harvard University that I really like. I think they started converting their fleet in 2018 or 2017. They said that they would only operate zero-emission vehicles going forward on their campus. So they began converting and they found that they were able to save about 230000 pounds of carbon annually by converting. So it's always difficult I feel like to benchmark carbon because 230000 pounds it's like well what do I produce here at my house. Right? And that's why I think Commutifi is so powerful because Andy you know as well as I do that is only things that get measured, that get managed. Right? It is only things that get measured, get managed and Commutifi would be measuring all of this. Right? So correct me if I’m wrong but if I understand correctly, if you have a client today that has a corporate shuttle program that is running diesel vehicles and we were to transition them to electric we would be able to measure that difference financially and sustainably, is that correct?

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah, I know...I mean like once again you're selling Commutifi here. I didn't even bring it up. Yes, you're right. You're right. No, it's true. That is exactly right. That's exactly right.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Well and that's what...that's the importance of measuring. We know the importance of managing but you know it's like...I always like to say that transportation including electric vehicles and zero-emission vehicles Andy, it's like if you and I want to go somewhere that we've never been, what are we gonna do? You and I will open our iPhone and we'll put it in google maps or apple maps where point b is. We're already standing at point a right but you can't get from point a to point b if you don't know how to get there you don't know where point b is. It's very important to know where point b is and the way you do that is by measuring where am I today, benchmarking with baseline data then improving upon that by doing things like converting from diesel to electric and this could be for you know I know Commutifi manages far beyond shuttles all these different things. So in that slice of the pie that Commutifi manages you know these same best practices can be applied where you're increasing the efficiency and reducing the environmental impact and of course, looking at cost-effectiveness as well over time.

-(Andy Keeton) Yeah no it's true and this is it's true and it's important to continue to measure. Give yourself that baseline. Track overtime. Get yourself an understanding of how this how you know you can save costs, you can save emissions and time this is why the TDM field's so exciting is like you said I asked you about admissions and you also bring up cost savings and TDM is one of the few things where saving emissions also saves costs. It's really exciting here. So we're you know we're running out of time we have a couple minutes I want to finish off here with this final question. We've been discussing kind of holistically this idea of electric shuttles of being prepared having this whole kit of tools to build a good electric shuttle program. So tell me Bobby in your own words in just a couple sentences, why will electric shuttles and more importantly why will electric shuttle preparedness we'll call it save the planet?

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah, it kind of feels that way, doesn't it? Oh there's so much news and buzz around electric vehicles that it feels like there's a lot of hype around how converting to electric vehicles is going to save the planet but the answer is that it will not. Whether you go out and you buy a tesla instead of you know a gas guzzler of some kind that's going to have an impact. Yes, but getting out of one car and getting into another is not going to solve our problem because while you have a more efficient car, you still have a car. We need to be moving towards shared modes. Shared sustainable transportation which I know Commutifi is a really big fan of. I’m a really big fan of I know the whole BusUp team is living by that and so I think that the goal here Andy is to understand that holistic pie that we talked about in the beginning of the call. What are the biggest contributing factors to this piece pie that we can make an impact on today? And when we look at that 40 percent globally of emissions are coming from transportation and here in the US 29 of our emissions coming from transportation. This is a significant enough place to focus our time but let's be clear it doesn't mean that you shouldn't be rinsing and recycling your plastics. It doesn't mean that you shouldn't be doing this or that. You know it's a holistic approach but converting shared transportation particularly for corporate companies, business parks, hospitals things like that to EV will attract riders, grow ridership, reduce drive-alone rates and hopefully reduce emissions all while saving the client money. So very much looking forward to these next couple of years. I think there's some exciting times ahead.

-(Andy Keeton) As always Bobby it's true. I mean it's a whole solution this is one piece of it. I think it's a big piece. I’m really excited about it. Thanks again for coming on. We have one more question for you as we always ask our guests at the end but before that I just want to you know remind our listeners our viewers, if you're listening to this on Spotify on apple podcast google podcast wherever we listen to podcasts, we have a video that goes along with this you can find this on youtube. You can find this on our website. You can go to betweenthelines.io and subscribe as well. Bobby's been talking about some really interesting studies some interesting facts you can find a transcript from this whole thing on our website so you can actually search up those facts that you heard so you can put them in your own you know reports that you're giving out to your key stakeholders and we'll also put some those as well in our email list as well. So remember to go to betweenthelines.io and follow along with us as we have more episodes coming out. So Bobby, last question here.

-(Bobby Lauterjung) I’m ready.

-(Andy Keeton) We have our playlists. Our music playlists on Spotify. Just in case you as a listener haven't quite gotten to your final destination yet you need to fill in some time and we like to fill these communified playlists with our guest favorite song. So Bobby tell me. What are you listening to? What would you like to add to our playlist?

-(Bobby Lauterjung) Yeah Yeah Yeah. I love it colors by black pumas. It is definitely at the top of my playlist right now. My ideal commute to work is riding my one wheel which is a little micro-mobility electricity to the train station and getting on that. I grew up in southern California surfing and I love to listen to that song while just kind of falling down to the train station. It's a great way to start the day Yeah black colors by black pumas and in fact, that entire album is a dipper. You can just listen to it front to back I love it.

-(Andy Keeton) Okay, I haven't listened to it yet and you were deriding me out. Tell me maybe I had missed out on a big piece of music here before we were getting on. So I promise Bobby, I will listen to this song right as we get off. I’m excited for it. You sold it well and Bobby as always love the hair. I love that you are coming on with the long hair. We got two long hair people here on the call. Once again if you're not watching you're missing out on some great hair dudes. Bobby's wonderland. All right Bobby once again, Thanks for being on everyone for listening join us next week and we'll see what the next TDM solution is. Thank you. Thank you, Bobby. All right. Have a good day. Thank you.

-(Voiceover) Thanks for joining us on this week's episode of Between The Lines with Andy Keeton.Be sure to subscribe to hear next week's episode and check out our exclusive commuter playlists on Spotify.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.

Better commuting starts here.