Replacing fossil fuels with renewable alternatives is one of the most effective environmental measures in public transport, according to experts at Scania Buses and Coaches. More widespread use of BRT systems and more energy-efficient vehicles are other changes on the way.
The year is 2025. More and more people are choosing to ride buses instead of driving cars. City bus lines have their own dedicated lanes, like streetcar lines without rails. Via feeder routes from the suburbs, passengers travel to safe, well-lit stations in the urban core where buses on the trunk lines stop. All ticket handling occurs outside the buses, reducing the risk of delays.
Buses have also increased in length in order to accommodate more passengers. This scenario will become a reality in most major cities around the world, according to Rolf Hedberg, Product Manager, Scania Buses and Coaches, with special responsibility for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT).
Escaping oil dependency
In 15 years, BRT systems will be a critical part of the infrastructure, Hedberg says. He lists several reasons for this: the environment, air quality and a desire to escape oil dependency. Experiences with BRT, especially in Latin America and South Africa, have also been very positive so far.
“Buses have always been cost-effective, but the overall experience of a bus journey needs to become more attractive,” Hedberg says. “In a BRT system, the suppliers, transport authorities and city planners can adopt a comprehensive approach.”
For Scania, this means helping its customers find partners who will assume responsibility for vehicle support and other considerations such as IT communications and coordination with other types of public transport.
Building a BRT system takes one to three years, compared with five to 30 years for an underground rail system. To date, Scania has delivered about 2,000 buses to BRT systems around the world.
“The challenge over the next few years will be to persuade more cities to dare to fully invest in BRT and not be satisfied with a budget version,” Hedberg says.
Anders Folkesson, Product Manager within Sustainable Systems at Scania Buses and Coaches, cites congestion in the urban core as another reason for investing in BRT.
“There is a trend towards a cleaner environment,” he says, “but even if cars ran on electricity, that would not be enough. There is simply not enough space on the streets to enable everyone to drive their own vehicle. That benefits buses.”
There are other parallel trends. For example, buses are becoming longer in order to accommodate more passengers. Scania has delivered buses that are 20 metres long, but eventually even longer ones may be needed. In addition, the company expects more experiments with electric propulsion, including a technology called “inductive power transfer” where electricity is transmitted wirelessly from the ground to the vehicle. Another method is to charge the vehicles via “electric umbrellas” at bus stops.
Renewable fuels highly prioritised
Hedberg and Folkesson emphasise that BRT is not the only solution to current public transport problems. Expanding the network of filling stations supplying renewable fuels is high on the priority list, since a transition to renewable fuels is one of the most effective environmental conservation measures. Hybrid buses are high on the list, although their development has occurred more slowly than many had predicted.
“Everyone wants to try them,” Folkesson says, “but few want to pay what they cost. Hybrids are not yet commercially attractive enough. Virtually all hybrids being sold today are heavily subsidised in different ways.”
Scania’s aim is to make hybrid buses profitable on their own merits. Based on today’s interest rates and fuel prices, they must pay for themselves in four to six years.
“The big advantage of hybrids is that they harness brake energy,” Folkesson says. Scania developed hybrid buses at an early stage, conducting its first tests in 1986. Over the years, Scania has tested various hybrid solutions − both parallel and series hybrids.
Hybrid technology and driver training
Hybrid technology reduces fuel consumption by an estimated 30 percent, and together with an ethanol engine it reduces fossil carbon dioxide emissions by up to 90 percent, compared with a diesel-operated bus. In a parallel hybrid system an electric motor is connected to the gearbox, while in a series hybrid there is no mechanical connection between the combustion engine and the electric propulsion motor.
Not everything is a matter of vehicle development. Scania’s driver training programmes are also an important element in its effort to reduce environmental impact. Evaluations show that by using Scania Driver Support, a bus driver in urban traffic can save on average 10 percent in fuel consumption.
The European Bus System of the Future (EBSF) is a four-year-long EU project focusing on bus systems in urban areas. Rolf Hedberg represents Scania in the project. Its aim is to highlight best-practice examples. The test cities are Bremerhaven, Brunoy, Budapest, Gothenburg, Madrid, Rome and Rouen.
The project will end in August 2012. Its final report will contain proposed solutions that fit European conditions and requirements.