Cities starting to get on board with emission-free buses

Seneca in South Carolina is to implement a fleet of Proterra electric emission-free buses - image courtesy of Proterra.
A Proterra electric bus of the kind to be supplied to Seneca, South Carolina - image courtesy of Proterra.

Manufacturers of emission-free buses are gaining traction with public transport departments around the world. But, while most schemes are running smoothly, Vancouver's has hit a bump in the road.

Seneca in South Carolina made history in February becoming the first municipality in the world to have an all-electric bus fleet.

Bus manufacturer Proterra, which is contracted to make the town’s new emission-free buses, said that although the fleet comprises just six battery-powered vehicles, it was an important milestone and set an impressive precedent.

The buses are able to travel 35 miles (56.327 km) per charge and were designed with assistance from Clemson University engineering students along with Clemson’s International Center for Automotive Research.

Each bus cost $90,000 and has an expected lifespan of 18 years. And, according to Proterra founder, Dave Hill, within 12 years the money each bus will save in fuel will surpass their original cost.

And it isn’t just Seneca that is seeing the benefits of investing in low carbon buses.

Other low carbon and emission-free bus initiatives

Since April 18, 2013, third-generation zero-emission hydrogen fuel cell buses have been providing service in San Francisco.

While across the pond, in London, mayor Boris Johnson announced recently that his city is to add two more hydrogen-powered buses added to its existing fleet of eight.

Johnson said Transport for London “plans to introduce two hydrogen fuel cell buses to route RV1”, which links Covent Garden, Tower Gateway, the South Bank and Bankside.

And further north, a hydrogen fuel station is to be established in Fife, Scotland and another, designed to service ten buses, has already opened in Aberdeen, Scotland.

“As a leading energy city determined to anchor the renewables industry in the north east, the success of the Aberdeen Hydrogen Bus Project is a real coup,” Aberdeen City Council leader Jenny Laing said.

Elsewhere in Europe, Swedish motor vehicle company Volvo contracted to supply both hybrid-electric and fully electric buses to the cities of Stockholm and Gothenburg, while the German city of Berlin introduced electric buses in 2014.

However, not every city is getting on board with emission-free buses. Vancouver, Canada, is planning to replace its hydrogen-powered buses with old-fashioned diesel-powered ones.

The city introduced 20 hydrogen-powered buses in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics but announced, at the end of last year, that due to high operating costs it would sell the buses or convert them to diesel-power.

According to Vancouver officials, a hydrogen-powered bus costs the city about $C1.34 in fuel per kilometre, whereas a diesel-powered bus costs just $C0.62 per kilometre.

But the decision has angered clean energy proponents who have said that the high cost is due to the lack of a local hydrogen supplier, revealing that Vancouver currently transports hydrogen fuel from Quebec, over 3,700km (2,299mi) away.

“Even if there was a bit of additional cost to running these things, you now have to go out and buy 20 new diesel buses to replace them, so I don’t understand how the math on that works,” said President and CEO of Vancouver and Fuel Cell Association Eric Denhoff. “I just think management there doesn’t like new technology,” he said.