In Geneva, An Electric Bus System That Instantly Charges Buses At Each Stop

Flash charging allows the buses to get little boosts of electricity at each stop. Losing the messy tangle of wires could make these systems more attractive to cities.

In Geneva, An Electric Bus System That Instantly Charges Buses At Each Stop
[Image: Wires via Shutterstock]

Electric trolleybuses are a clean and efficient form of transit, but they do come with a lot of clutter. Streets end up with canopies full of criss-crossing wires (Exhibit A: San Francisco).


The solution may be “flash charging,” which provides the cleanliness of electricity without the excessive wiring (as we’ve covered before). Rather than a continual connection, buses get quick boosts at stops–enough for them to get through the next leg.

In Switzerland, the city of Geneva has teamed up with power tech giant ABB, bus manufacturer Hess, and a local utility to show off the concept. Launched recently, the pilot route runs from the city’s exhibition center to the railway station, and involves three charging points. The articulated buses (capacity: 135 people) stop for 15 seconds, get a rapid burst of power from a laser-directed arm, then move on. The point isn’t to recharge the battery completely, just about 5% to 10% each time.

Apart from decluttering, Claes Rytoft, ABB’s acting CTO, says flash-charging should be much cheaper than cabling. “The cost of the infrastructure goes down, because you don’t have to put in overhead lines any longer. You put in a charging station every second or third mile, something like that,” he says.

“It is also more flexible. If you look at electric trollies in Europe, they are very limited in where they can go. They have to stay very close to the overhead lines. This is different.”

The Geneva trial runs until next February, at which point the city will decide whether to go forward with the idea and expand.

Rytoft says ABB is discussing the technology with several cities, including ones that currently run diesel systems. “There are mainly diesel buses in the world today, and we believe that some of them will convert to electric over time. We expect the price of diesel buses to go up and the price for battery-buses to go down. When we have the right mix, the market will grow.”

About the author

Ben Schiller is a New York staff writer for Fast Company. Previously, he edited a European management magazine and was a reporter in San Francisco, Prague, and Brussels.