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  • Dec 23, 2014
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CommentInsight & Opinion

Time for HK to get serious about electric buses

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 October, 2012, 2:49am

Greatly reducing the pollution of Hong Kong's roadside air is as easy as replacing the fleet of ageing diesel buses with electric ones. The solution is as near as Shenzhen, where a leading producer of such vehicles, BYD, is based. Yet instead of being ahead of the curve, our city is barely on the journey, with KMB, the biggest franchised operator, having just taken delivery of its first battery-powered single-decker. The government has been instrumental in getting this far, and its remaining in the driver's seat is crucial to making the air on our streets less harmful.

Putting electric buses on our roads is not as simple as buying them. There has to be investment and careful planning to put in place a recharging network. Safety has to be a priority. Confidence in electric vehicles was shaken in May when three people in a BYD-made taxi died as it burst into flames after being struck by a speeding sports car in Shenzhen. Investigators said the vehicle's design was not to blame, but more than a mainland-produced report will be needed to restore trust.

There have been no serious incidents with electric buses, hundreds of which are in use across the mainland, Europe and North America. BYD, the world's largest manufacturer, put the accumulated mileage of the vehicles to July at 8.23 million kilometres. Extensive trials will still be needed for our city to ensure suitability. But given enthusiastic acceptance by public transport companies and passengers elsewhere, there is no reason why the road ahead should not be smooth.

A government-funded trial of 36 electric buses is scheduled for next year. That is a minuscule fraction of the 5,798 diesel-powered buses on our roads to the end of last year, more than half of them below acceptable European pollution standards. Our city lags behind other major international centres in upgrading its bus fleet, yet does not lack the financial resources. Environment Secretary Wong Kam-sing has so far said little about the government's pollution-fighting plans. He will be making a sound start if he takes charge on electric buses.


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This article is now closed to comments

The government and bus companies are right to tread cautiously when heading into the uncharted territory of operating chargeable electric buses on hilly terrain and in a climate where the travelling masses expect their buses to be as cold as their ice-creams when its 33 degrees-plus and 90% relative humidity in the summer .
Qingdao ( also with hilly terrain) started an experiment with these buses last year and I look forward to seeing the results of their tests....................... if they ever released without being doctored.
Bus manufacturers and local city governments involved in experiments like this are usually very reluctant to release accurate reports if their schemes have not been particularly successful. Too much embarrassment all round.
One aspect that is conveniently overlooked by proponents of electric buses is passenger capacity. The capacity of the single deck electric buses being built in China is substantially less than half of our giant long-wheel based diesel-powered double deckers. So Hong Kong bus companies would immediately have to more than double the number of vehicles on the road ( = more traffic congestion) if they go totally electric.The additional operational costs of two single-deck buses for every one double-decker is also double or more.
Beware! Don't ever say that 'captam' hasn't warned you!
A better alternative would be hybrid buses using a combination of electric motors and clean diesel engines. Hybrid buses use diesel when moving at road speed and electric power when in heavy traffic and stopped. With Hong Kong's road congestion on major corridors like Hennessy Road, the ability to shut down diesel engines when in heavy traffic would be an ideal solution. An added plus is a charging infrastructure is not needed as the diesel engine and brakes recharge the batteries. Hybrid buses are a proven technology and can be on HK's roads tomorrow. An all-electric bus program will take years to put in place (maybe decades considering the way HK's govt responds to problems). In the meantime, how many people will die from air pollution caused diseases?


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