Proof that excellent bus services are still possible

Letters from Alan Bond of west Somerset and Angus Skinner of Edinburgh
Buses in Edinburgh
Buses are the best thing about Edinburgh, say Angus Skinner’s American friends. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod for the Guardian

Jo Hillier’s letter (8 June) regarding bus services could apply to most of Britain these days. Those of us who were working in the bus industry before, through and beyond the 1980s, warned of the perils of deregulation and privatisation and were ignored by the Thatcher government. Everything we warned about has come to pass, due to the failings of both the Tories and the Blair government as they took no action to address the issues.

The 1930 Road Traffic Act regulated bus services so as to avoid needless competition between operators and, as a result, many non-urban bus routes were able to operate by being cross-subsidised by the operators themselves in return for freedom from “pirate” operators muscling in on the more lucrative routes.

The present government, like all its Tory predecessors, will do nothing to improve bus services. This is clearly shown by its recent bill which specifically prohibits local authorities from setting up publicly owned bus companies, despite the fact that such companies provide better, cheaper and more reliable services as shown by Reading and Nottingham among a number of others up and down the country.

Here in west Somerset we now have one bus service provided by a national operator and that ceases to operate after 8pm. Between the M5 and the north Devon coast we now have an area larger than greater London which is a bus-free zone after 8pm and little better all day on Sundays. The time has come to drop the failed system put in place by Margaret Thatcher and Nicholas Ridley and replace it with a proper regulatory system provided by publicly owned bus companies. Thatcher’s remark that anybody over 30 who travelled by bus is a failure has clearly come home to roost.
Alan Bond
Watchet, Somerset

It is possible to run excellent bus services as those of us fortunate to live in Edinburgh know well. I had some friends from the US come to visit to see the castle, the history, the hills and the poetry. They had a great time. I asked them at the end what they had enjoyed most. “You, know, Angus, you have the best bus services in the world.” I never drive my car in the city.
Professor Angus Skinner

How TransLink will supercharge E-bus batteries in 5 minutes

Battery-powered buses are coming to Metro Vancouver next year. Here’s how they work


A prototype of TransLink’s electric buses was unveiled Thursday in Vancouver. (Alex Lamic/CBC)

Some time next year, TransLink is planning to roll out four new battery-powered buses that can be recharged in five minutes.

Here’s how the new technology works.

Variable power system

Normal trolleybus lines carry a constant stream of power at a level that does not vary, according to Josipa Petrunic, executive director and CEO for the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium, which led the development of the new buses.

The four new prototype buses, which will begin service next year on the No. 100 route connecting South Vancouver, Burnaby and New Westminister, will instead rely on a variable power system to charge up their batteries.


Fast-charging buses have been on the streets of Montreal since 2017. (CBC)

“In this scenario, the buses are going to pull into the station. There is an overhead robotic arm that comes down from the charger and connects to the roof of the bus while people are loading on and off,” explained Petrunic at the preview of the buses last Thursday in Vancouver.

Petrunic says the new charging stations will allow the buses to power up in minutes by giving operators the option for ramping up the power at peak times.

“Right now you can get those charging systems at 150 kilowatts, 300 kilowatts. We are pushing it up to 450 kilowatts. We want to go to 600, maybe one megawatt in the future,” she said.

“What that allows people to do at TransLink is say, ‘Oh, the bus is running behind schedule. Throttle the charger up.’ Let it deliver power at 450 or 600 kilowatts so it can drive the charging time down to a less than a minute.”

“But if there is more time in the schedule — it is not a peak period — we want to reduce our electricity costs so we can throttle it down to 300 kilowatts or 150 kilowatts, and save the battery.”

Time, power, capacity

The reason this fast-charging system works is because in simple terms, charging a battery is basically a matter of three things: time, power and capacity.

The more power you put into the battery, the faster it charges. How long it takes to fully charge depends on the batteries’ total power capacity, measured in kilowatt hours (kWh).

To calculate charging time (in hours) you simply need to divide the battery’s capacity in kilowatt hours by the charging power in kilowatts.

Charging systems for electric cars like the Nissan Leaf (which might have a 20 kWh battery capacity) or various Tesla models (which have up 100 kWh battery capacity) range from thee kilowatts for a household system to up to 120 kilowatts for fast-charging stations.


At the fast-charging stations, a robotic arm connects to the bus while passengers are hopping off and on. (CBC)

200-kilometre range

The new buses will have a range of over 200 kilometres on a full charge, but will only need a partial charge to cover the 15 kilometres between the two charging stations at the Marpole Bus Loop and the 22nd Street SkyTrain Station.

And much like electric or hybrid vehicles, the buses will have a regenerative braking system that will help charge up the lithium batteries anytime the driver hits the brakes.

Thousands of battery-powered electric buses have been in use around the world since 2009, but one of the things that will make the charging system used by TransLink unique is that it is the first to use a standardized system shared by two different bus companies, New Flyer and Nova Bus.

Swansa Bus Museum moves house

Swansea Bus Museum moved to their new premises in Viking Way in the nick of time before the lease was up on their old home. I visited the new premises at the weekend and was very impressed by the progress made already to get everything bus-shape. The Museum has big plans for the future – keep an eye on their announcements.

The Museum’s new life starts with their first running day of the year on 25 February. Go along for a super outing to support the Museum and Swansea’s heritage. See you there!

Petition: Make it illegal for Historic Vehicles to be processed through scrappage schemes

Make it illegal for manufacturers to process vehicles which have Historic Vehicle on their V5 documents though any scrappage scheme. A simple way to avoid losing rare road heritage is to make all vehicles with Historic Vehicle on their V5 document, legally exempt from scrappage.

Journal of Transport History on Twitter

You might be interested to know that the Journal of Transport History is now active on Twitter – follow it @JTransportHist

We’re using the feed to keep everyone up to date with what’s going on in transport history at the moment, as well as what the JTH is doing, articles and features that are coming out, and to hear back from you all – do please use this to get in touch with us!

Dr Mike Esbester

‘Self-driving’ lorries to be tested on UK roads

Small convoys of partially self-driving lorries will be tried out on major British roads by the end of next year, the government has announced.

A contract has been awarded to the Transport Research Laboratory (TRL) to carry out the tests of vehicle “platoons”.

Up to three lorries will travel in formation, with acceleration and braking controlled by the lead vehicle.

But the head of the AA said platoons raised safety concerns.

In the platoons, the lead vehicle will be controlled by a human driver and will communicate with the rest of the convoy wirelessly.

The following vehicles will be instructed to accelerate and brake by the lead vehicle, allowing the lorries to drive closer together than they could with human drivers.

Lorries driving close together could reduce air resistance for the following vehicles, as the front lorry pushes air out of the way.

This could lead to fuel efficiency savings for haulage companies, which Transport Minister Paul Maynard hopes will be passed on to consumers.

The following vehicles could also react more quickly to the lead lorry braking than human drivers can.

However, human drivers will still steer all the lorries in the convoy.

The TRL will begin trials of the technology on test tracks, but these trials are expected to move to major roads by the end of 2018.

The government has been promising such a project since at least 2014.

Last year, for example, it announced its intention to carry out platooning trials but was later frustrated after some European lorrymakers declined to participate.

A Department of Transport spokesman told the BBC that the experiments are now expected to go ahead as the contract had been awarded.

The TRL has announced its partners for the project:

  • DAF Trucks, a Dutch lorry manufacturer
  • Ricardo, a British smart tech transport firm
  • DHL, a German logistics company

Platooning has been tested in a number of countries around the world, including the US, Germany and Japan.

However, British roads present a unique challenge, said Edmund King, president of the AA.

“We all want to promote fuel efficiency and reduce congestion but we are not yet convinced that lorry platooning on UK motorways is the way to go about it,” he said, pointing out, for example, that small convoys of lorries can block road signs from the view of other road users.

“We have some of the busiest motorways in Europe with many more exits and entries.

“Platooning may work on the miles of deserted freeways in Arizona or Nevada but this is not America,” he added.

His comments were echoed by the RAC Foundation.

Its director, Steve Gooding, said: “Streams of close-running HGVs could provide financial savings on long-distance journeys, but on our heavily congested motorways – with stop-start traffic and vehicles jostling for position – the benefits are less certain.”

Campaign group the Road Haulage Association said “safety has to come first”.

Transport Minister Paul Maynard said platooning could lead to cheaper fuel bills, lower emissions and less congestion.

“But first we must make sure the technology is safe and works well on our roads, and that’s why we are investing in these trials,” he said.