The Right Bus For 'Green' Land

The Right Bus For 'Green' Land

“AS AN ENERGY-storage system for a bus, a tank of diesel takes some beating: it is compact, fits whatever shape is available, providing plenty of operating range. And, crucially, the up-front cost is modest... Finding an equally convenient means of storing electrical energy on a hybrid bus is not nearly so simple.” That’s David Wilcox in a recent issue of Transport Engineer.

London’s buses were long recognised as world leaders in passenger comfort – culminating in the ‘standard’ bus, the Regent III (the RT), which ran from 1939-1979, and its successor, the famous Routemaster (RM). Since then, the emphasis has been on passenger volume and environmental efficiency, rather than comfort. During his election campaign, London Mayor Boris Johnson promised “a bus fit for the 21st century”. Once elected, he launched a competition to design a new bus (nicknamed the Borisbus) which attracted 700 entries – none of which was actually used. Never- theless, Wrightbus of Ballymena was contracted to build five proto- types. Said Johnson: “Londoners can travel on these buses with clear environmental consciences, safe in the knowledge their journey will guzzle far less fuel and expire a whopping 40 per cent less carbon dioxide than a regular bus.” And in comfort? No mention of that.

According to bus-maker Optare’s chief executive: “Customers are not warming to the low-carbon offerings being promoted, particularly on cost-benefit.” Their own battery- electric alternative to the hybrid is far more costly than had been expected, with the electric driveline alone adding £98,000, roughly doubling its price.

CO2 emissions from England’s buses have increased significantly over the last ten years, yet only 0.2 per cent of buses are currently low-carbon. To encourage them to go ‘green’, and with the hope that reduced production costs will boost sales, the government has created a new fund: part of a radical shift to low-carbon transport and air-quality improvement.

Greener Journeys, a campaign group funded by bus companies, proposes a bus and coach scrappage scheme as well as greater use of bus priority, park-and-ride and school buses. They want the government to encourage people into buses; the target is to change one journey in 25. But how?

Many environmentally-friendly vehicles give a poor ride. The high cost of that, and of conforming with disability legislation, leaves little room for luxury: a standee can squeeze in more fare-payers at lower cost per traveller. Passenger- appeal means extra weight, and that extra weight needs more fuel.

Reading Buses is to convert its fleet of ‘eco-friendly’ bio-ethanol buses to diesel. Bio-ethanol must be imported from Sweden and the buses are not only off the road for maintenance more, but are also 40 per cent less efficient than diesels.

Even the Borisbus’s ‘carbon footprint’ has run into criticism from environmentalists: the much- celebrated hydrogen-powered buses, though made in Northern Ireland, will be shipped to California to have their engines fitted (most of London’s RTs and RMs were locally-built).

If operators are to get people out of cars and on to buses and coaches, they need to provide comfortable, frequent, high-quality services. But, resources are not unlimited. So, will we ever enjoy taking the green-land bus?

Ralph Adam



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