Comment left over at Mayorwatch on the 11th March:


What bloody cheek. Funny how all these environmental warriors weren’t jumping up and down when the Newt and TFL were ordering thousands of diesel buses – one of the primary causes of the NoX and soot pollution in the centre of London.
Oh, and the 21,000 black cabs described to me by the world’s leading expert on future engine design as ‘the dirtiest public transport in Europe’.
I also found out today that Australia runs all its public transport on clean-burning natural gas. Just like California, Toyko, Hong Kong…
Pity Boris won’t grab the nettle and force all cabs to be re-engined to LPG by 2012.
PS Any thoughts on the EU prosecution of Britain for not hitting the EU pollution targets set years ago? Labour government, wasn’t it?

Well, there’s no doubt where this chap stands.  Who is it, I wonder?

Posted by J H Holoway March 11, 2009, 11:14 pm

Yes, it’s Hilton Holloway again, Associate Editor of Autocar.  Comments here and at Dave Hill’s as ‘newsed1′, usually about transport policy, which he seems to consider himself an expert on.  He isn’t.  I’m not sure black cabs count as ‘public transport’, for that matter.

First off, I do have to say that a lot of what Hilton says is based fairly soundly on the latest developments in drive trains and things, and to his credit he’s been fairly consistently opposed to the concept of two-crew neo-Routemasters.  The problem comes in the analysis and the grasp of the current state of affairs and how it links into matters of public policy and ideology – for instance, it’s obvious to the rest of us from the political point of view that the two-crew was the selling point of the ‘bringing back the Routemaster’, not the drive train – Boris at one point suggested paying for them by scrapping the hybrid investment strategy – it was TfL who presumably persuaded him otherwise.  The manifesto policy was therefore based on nostalgia and looking backwards, not as a step forward to cleaner air.

Next, if you’re going to pull the old ‘they do it better overseas’ trick, it’s worth actually looking at matters overseas to see if they actually support your position.  Just as people who say ‘Look how good French railways are’ generally aren’t aware of the parlous state of non-TGV lines, Hilton’s constant refrain about how dreadful Ken and TfL are in filling London with choking diesel buses compared with the sweet-smelling air of Sydney, Hong Kong or Los Angeles doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny.  Let’s break it down:

I also found out today that Australia runs all its public transport on clean-burning natural gas.

Well, I’ve no idea where he’s getting this from.  Obviously there are natgas powered public transport vehicles – I remember seeing them in Watford quite a few years ago.  There are natgas powered vehicles in Australia, too, and it’s clear that the transport authorities Down Under are looking at reducing emissions and CO2 output, like many others worldwide.  What I can’t find is *any* indication that Australia ‘runs all its public transport on clean-burning natural gas’.  Public transport includes railways, too, and they certainly don’t run trains on natural gas – the Aussies go for big US traction diesels, and their electric trains just use whatever generating mix is available nationally, which is Oz is largely *coal*, which isn’t terribly clean *at all*.

Let’s start with my common research method of using wikipedia to act as a pointer to more reliable sources.  All it takes, remember, is to find a piece of Aussie public transport that doesn’t use natural gas.  It doesn’t take long to find a pointer:

The T-way links the railway stations at Parramatta and Liverpool via a series of bus-only roadways and bus lanes. Services along the T-way are operated by Western Sydney Buses, a unit of the State Transit Authority of New South Wales.

Services were initially provided by 17 natural-gas powered buses in blue and yellow T-way livery. These have been replaced by Volvo Euro 3 diesel buses. All services are wheelchair-accessible and air-conditioned.

Hmm.  And another one?

Brisbane Transport and Transperth in Australia have both adopted a policy of only purchasing CNG buses in future. Transperth is purchasing 451 Mercedes-Benz OC500LE buses and is undertaking trials with articulated CNG buses from Scania, MAN, and Irisbus, while Brisbane Transport has purchased 216 Scania L94UB and 240 MAN 18.310 models as well as 30 MAN NG 313 articulated CNG buses. The State Transit Authority of New South Wales (operating under the name “Sydney Buses”) operates 102 Scania L113CRB buses, two Mercedes-Benz O405 buses and 300 Mercedes-Benz O405NH buses and are now taking delivery of 255 Euro 5-compliant Mercedes-Benz OC500LEs.

I think I see what’s happening here – Hilton has heard something about Brisbane and Perth adopting policies of buying natgas powered buses *in future* and magically turned this into a country wide 100% gas powered public transport fleet.  I’m not sure that amount of stretching is strictly allowable.  In fact, Brisbane isn’t even going all CNG, either:

Brisbane Transport’s fleet is steadily being replaced with low-floor compressed natural gas and diesel buses, including 352 new MAN 18.310 HOCL-NL low-floor buses (285 gas powered, 67 diesel powered). 30 new MAN NG313F articulated buses were delivered to the Garden City depot in the 2007-2008 financial year and 8 Scania K310UB 14.5m length buses are being delivered as at early 2009

The truth, therefore, is that Australia uses CNG powered vehicles to a greater extent than the UK, but in no way is it ‘all its public transport’.  The reason is actually geological.  Australia doesn’t have our large oilfields, but does have natural gas deposits, which means the reason for going for CNG as fuel was economic as well as environmental.  This is a pattern seen in other large-scale users of CNG buses such as Canada as well as various South American operators – it’s the cost which makes it a no brainer.  Here in the UK we have the gas but we don’t actually have the infrastructure to deliver it for vehicles – we burn the stuff as domestic fuel and for electricity, while the oil exploration, extraction, refining and distribution is already there.  Different countries, different conditions, different results.  We don’t exactly run a lot of London’s private cars on CNG, either, unlike in places like South America where they’ve put investment into the infrastructure, and with the gas fields running down, I’m not sure anyone’s going to invest in technology that merely moves your balls from the hands of King Abdullah to those of Vladimir Putin.

As for Hong Kong, that’s also quite a bizarre example, not because it’s a Thatcherite pointing to Communists as an example to be followed but because they’re a well-known major export customer for British built diesel buses, notably the ADL Enviro500.  This is the big brother of the common London operated Enviro400 that currently has 65% of the UK DD market and, until recently when a parallel hybrid was introduced, the Enviro500 was only available in bog standard diesel form.  Most Enviro500s in Hong Kong will therefore have Euro III engines, with the most recent ones having Euro IV.  This is exactly the pattern in London – Boris is only allowed to pretend that his bendy policy is environmentally friendly because of the European regulations that specify that his large number of new buses will be Euro IV or better (probably Euro 5, actually), replacing the older Euro III bendies.  So much for standing up to elfnsafety nonsense and the diktats of the Eurocrats.  Ironically, ADL are now assembling their buses in China (for Hong Kong) and California.

[Incidentally, it’s interesting that the Euro emissions standards seem to be the defacto standard across a large area of the world outside Europe.  Easier to follow someone else’s standards than to invent your own, presumably.  See the metric system for details.]

Hong Kong’s fleet is famously mostly double decker, which is again odd if you want to use it as an example of use of CNG buses, as I’m not sure there is a CNG double decker – normally you put the CNG tanks on the roof, and since CNG takes four times the volume of diesel for the same power, these are pretty big and heavy.  This obviously applies to London as well, with our large double deck fleet, so the consequences for centre of gravity and vehicle height would seem to make this prohibitive.  You wouldn’t want the tanks in the floor of the upper deck, of course – one leak, one spark and boom (the reason they’re on the roof is that a leak just dissipates into the atmosphere).  So CNG-powered double deckers doesn’t sound like a viable solution to me.  CNG bendies are just fine, of course, just put the tanks on the roof as usual.

There’s a lot more to criticise in Hilton’s bus opinions:

  • not realising the state of play between parallel and series hybrid designs.  ADL, for example, use parallel for the Enviro500H and series for the Enviro200H and Envir0400H.  WrightBus’s Gemini2 HEV is a series hybrid (following on from the 2006 TfL trial), while the Volvo hybrid based on the original Gemini is parallel.  Optare’s Tempo is a parallel, while their new Rapta double-decker sounds like a series to me.  There’s no winner yet.  The important point is that conventionally laid-out buses can use either, the Routemaster layout dictates series, thus limiting your design choice.  It also looks like all three major manufacturers will have series-hybrid double deckers available really quite soon.  I’m wondering how many of them will cut a hole in the back and send a piccie to Boris along with a price tag.
  • not realising that there are plenty of competing hybrid designs on the market, therefore it might be wise to run competitive trials to see what works instead of having a drawing contest for the shape of the bus.  No one needs selling on the idea of hybrids, we now need to have proven off-the-shelf solutions in UK bus shapes.
  • not realising that the emissions difference between a 2000-era Euro III bus and a 2008-era Euro5 bus is quite staggering, particularly on NOx and particulates.  This means the best way forward is to replace your buses as frequently as possible, to keep the fleet age young and I believe a lot of Conservatives attacked Livingstone for doing precisely this, because it was profligate and helped the disabled and things.  Phil Taylor for one.  Euro5 is a tough, tough standard – remember Boris is now not going ahead with the LEZ restriction to EuroIII for certain types of vehicle in 2010 because it’s so dreadfully expensive, let along Euro5.  The LEZ is thus considerably less tough than TfL’s bus procurement policy, therefore just whanging on about London bus emissions is ludicrous unless you propose tougher LEZ limitations at the same time.
  • not realising that, since the rest of the world doesn’t follow the rituals of the Bendy Jihad, hybrid articulated buses are likely to be available in quantity long before the Routemaster.  For that matter, CNG-powered artics will be, too.  This is the result of a bigger market, with competing solutions developed by globalised private enterprise married to legal steps and tough regulation rather than a single design of R101master designed by the nostalgia committee of a parochial state transport operator.
  • if you’re a commercial operator, you want as little new technology as possible, as it’s disruptive.  Parts of the world that are ahead of us on low-emission bus technology therefore explicitly use a lot of public subsidy to move things along, such as in Brisbane, or a lot of legislation, like California.  This is pretty much what TfL’s hybrid and hydrogen powered bus trials are for – at the current stage of development there are big risks in going hybrid if your profits are on the line – no one knows when they break even.  The Euro emissions regulations are increasingly tough, too.

All, in all, the verdict is ‘must try harder’ – if consistency is that hard, can we please try for occasional fact-based opinions?  Pretty please?

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