Back in March this year London was set to see the introduction of 5 all electric double decker buses capable of driving up to 190 miles in day on one 4 hour overnight charge. The 5 buses joined a fleet of single deck electric, hydrogen and hybrid buses as part of the effort to reduce emissions in the city centre.
At the other end of the country Stagecoach are operating all electric bus services in Inverness and having worked with manufacturer Optare have managed to extend the range of miles the vehicles can do. In addition to running on electricity, these buses also feature electric heating systems rather than the standard diesel ones. This makes them the UKs’ most efficient electric buses in terms of kWh per mile and they fist of their kind.
The UK isn’t alone in its efforts to use electric vehicles in public transport fleets in an effort to try and reduce carbon emissions. Electric vehicles are being used in many major cities across Europe as well as an initiative called CityMobil2, which is piloting driverless automated systems. .
However, the introduction of better electric vehicles with longer distances between charges may go some way towards the reduction of emissions but it doesn’t solve the problem of congestion. Many city centres and their outskirts remain gridlocked with traffic numbers continually increasing. Those who ditch their cars in preference for public transport for travel in the city still find themselves in overcrowded buses and trains. When it comes to buses, despite many cities having dedicated bus lanes in certain areas, there just isn’t the space to have them across the whole city, meaning sitting stationary in a traffic queue is inevitable.
There are some projects to increase and improve rail services like Crossrail and Crossrail2 which will help rail travel. In addition, projects and feasibility studies are underway in London to investigate the possibility of taking roads underground by way of tunnels and underpasses. However, if traffic volumes continue to increase, how long will it be before those new routes and tunnels become congested too?
Could the new ‘straddling bus’ being tested in China be the answer? Its ability to carry up to 300 passengers and travel over the flow of normal road traffic makes it sound interesting.
The concept has been around for some time but it wasn’t until May this year that people began to get excited when a mini model of the bus or Transit Elevated Bus (TEB) to give it its correct name, was revealed. This week a working prototype was launched and is being tested on a small section of track in the city of Qinhuangdao.
The vehicle runs on rails laid alongside ordinary roads and up to 4 TEBs can be linked together, although currently one sole vehicle is being tested. The TED can simply drive over the existing road traffic, resolving the issue of public transport getting caught up in congestion and, in theory, encouraging people to leave their cars behind and use the more effective public transport. This in turn, should also reduce emissions. However, there is still some way to go to test the real feasibility of using TEBs in major cities.
For one thing, the TEB is 21 metres long and more than 7.5 metres wide – not a size that could easily be accommodated on many UK city centre roads, and that’s just one vehicle. But I guess some could make an argument for it revolutionising longer distance motorway travel where the roads are wider and straighter. The vehicle is powered by electricity and would be powered by overhead lines or other roof electrical contact systems, perhaps supplemented by battery power, so a big impact on fuel and emission reductions. But with such a small test section of track (300m) it’s yet to be understood just how much power the vehicle would need and how long it could travel.
Add in to those power concerns the safety concerns about the various heights of other road vehicles and how they would be overcome and there are certainly still many unknowns here.
Its engineers however state that with the ability to carry up to 1200 passengers and travel at 60km per hour, it’s on a par with a subway, but would cost five times less than a new subway and take much less time to complete.
It’s clear that something needs to be done to reduce emissions and congestion if we are to keep our city centres moving, but is it really feasible that we’ll see ‘straddling buses’ on our roads in the future? Only time will tell.