The city's first battery-powered electric bus entered service yesterday to see if it is suitable for the hills, humidity and busy roads of Hong Kong.
The single-decker, built by mainland carmaker BYD, will be tested on several Kowloon Motor Bus routes in the next 12 months.
The first trial will be along KMB's seven-kilometre route No2 between the Star Ferry Pier at Tsim Sha Tsui and So Uk Estate in Cheung Sha Wan. The bus will provide an extra service over the one-month trial period. The fare will remain the same.
Video: Take a ride on what could be the city's answer to smoggy skies.
It has done 20,000 kilometres already, taking KMB staff to and from their office and depot. It has been modified to meet legal requirements and local specifications, including a low-platform design, facilities for the disabled and air conditioning. KMB expected it to be both comfortable and efficient, using one to two kilowatt-hours - or HK$2 worth of power - for every kilometre.
The firm dismissed safety fears prompted by an accident in Shenzhen last year in which an electric taxi crashed into a tree and caught fire, killing all three occupants. Also, earlier this year, a charging dock for BYD's E6 taxi in Hong Kong overheated.
Managing director Edmond Ho Tat-man said systems would be in place to monitor the temperature and voltage of the vehicle's three lithium ion phosphate batteries. "If there is any problem with any one of the three batteries, the system will cut out automatically. The bus driver can also turn off the main power supply. We will make every aspect safe before we put the bus into regular service," Ho said.
He added it was too early to work out the cost of running the bus, which has been leased from BYD, as it would be tested during the trial for power consumption and battery durability. Ho said the subtropical climate and air-conditioning needs made it "tough" to operate buses here.
On its first run yesterday, the bus was packed with passengers wanting to try it out. Among them was Leslie Chan Ka-long, chairman of Facebook group Our Bus Terminal, who found the journey satisfactory and said it was more stable than an electric bus he took in Shenzhen. "But this route won't test its performance going up or downhill," Chan said. A retiree on board didn't know the bus was making its debut. He said he was aware of the accident in Shenzhen, but had faith in the company's safety checks.
The 12-metre bus has 31 seats and room for 35 people to stand. That's two and four fewer, respectively, than the single-decker buses which run on diesel. The electric bus is one tonne heavier because of the battery weight.
The bus will be recharged at the Lai Chi Kok depot at the end of every day. Three hours of charging will provide enough power to cover 180 kilometres.
Secretary for the Environment Wong Kam-sing said the goal was for all buses in the city to eventually be zero-emission vehicles. The government had set aside HK$180 million to subsidise bus firms to buy 36 electric buses. KMB said it planned to put out a tender for 18 of the buses.