Last summer saw the launch of a new bus service in Sweden’s second city – with a fleet of hybrid electric and full electric buses, and an indoor bus stop

 

gothenburg55The world’s first indoor bus stop at Lindholmen Science Park

 

By ROBERT JACK

“We keep talking about it in France, and here they’ve done it,” said Jean-Pierre Farandou, CEO of Keolis, during a visit to Sweden last month. The statement could equally have been applied to the UK. Sweden is further along the road towards alternative energies, and their application in public transport. What’s at the conceptual phase in the UK is being tested in Sweden, and what’s being tested in the UK is fast moving into Sweden’s mainstream.

Keolis is the second largest operator in Sweden, with an annual turnover of around £320m. Just 1% (18 out of around 1,800) of its buses run on diesel, and they are due to be phased out in the first quarter of next year. There’s a plethora of environmental initiatives within this business, but perhaps the most exciting is Gothenburg’s pioneering 55 bus route, with its full electric vehicles and indoor bus stop.

Keolis operates the service, working in a partnership of 14 different stakeholders. Launched on June 15, this new cross city service links two science parks every 10 minutes. The route’s 10-strong fleet comprises seven hybrid-electric buses and three full electric vehicles.

These vehicles stand out on the streets of Gothenburg. First of all, they’re painted green instead of the uniform blue colour that adorns the city’s 2,000 buses, marking them out as environmentally-friendly. But other aspects of the service also set it apart. The vehicles have phone charging points and Wi-Fi, and the full electric buses feature a central driving position (with the driver isolated from the rest of the vehicles) and a single double-width central door. The route even has its own website (www.goteborgelectricity.se).

The ride quality is very smooth, which appeals to drivers and passengers, and Västtrafik, the region’s passenger transport authority, reports that it has received letters from the public wanting to know when more of these vehicles will be introduced.

The route also features what is believed to be a world first – an indoor bus stop. Located at the route’s northern terminus, Lindholmen Science Park, the stop also houses a charging station for the vehicles (it takes six minutes to recharge the batteries).

The indoor bus stop is really an extension to an existing building, leading one observer to remark “it’s just a luxury bus stop”. Perhaps, but it’s a luxury that I think bus users may appreciate in Gothenburg’s cold winters. Furthermore, having demonstrated that zero-emission buses can live within a building, architects can now develop more imaginative plans to integrate buses and buildings. A shopping mall is apparently interested in inviting electric buses inside. “It means that the city can build tighter,” explains Lars Backström, Västtrafik’s managing director.

In Arendal, five miles away from Lindholmen Science Park, is the new ‘Volvo Bus Experience Center’. This new facility opened this summer and is intended to provide a space to show Volvo’s vision of the future. There’s a showroom and an area for presentations, and below the main screen there’s a quote from Enrique Peñalosa, who served as mayor of Bogotá between 1998 and 2001 and was this year elected to serve again: “A developed country is not a place where the poor have cars. It’s where the rich use public transportation.”

But are we rich enough to afford electric buses? Ulf Magnusson, senior vice president of Volvo Bus Corporation’s European division, believes we can. He’s reluctant to say what the vehicles cost, claiming that there are many different variables involved, but 500,000 Euros is “not far away”.

And, he declared: “If you take the total cost of operation it is today cheaper than diesel.”

And, he added, if you think long term and consider the other benefits that can be derived from these vehicles, like driver/passenger satisfaction and noise reduction, “then it’s hallelujah!”

And what about the battery life? Magnusson expects the batteries to need replacing after four to six years, but the true answer is not yet known. However, bus operators are protected from this risk because Volvo is offering the vehicles on a ‘per kilometre’ basis or “whatever the operator wants”.

The Volvo Bus Experience Center also serves as the depot for the 55. The hi-tech vehicles are maintained here by Volvo and upstairs a control room monitors their on-street movements.

From here it is possible to view the buses as they cross over the Götaälvbron bridge in central Gothenburg, which was built in the 1930s and is in poor condition. Buses are restricted to 15kmph as they pass over the bridge, and Volvo uses GPS to enable this speed restriction to be imposed on the vehicles automatically. This improves compliance and it takes the stress away from drivers.

 

Next stop: Edinburgh

So when is this technology coming to the UK? Quite soon, actually. Lothian Buses, Edinburgh’s local authority-owned bus company, will introduce a fleet of 25 Volvo 7900 hybrid-electric buses in 2017. These buses will be able to travel up to 11km in full electric mode.

The initial plan is to introduce the buses on the cross city route 30, which links Clovenstone and Musselburgh via three designated ‘Air Quality Management Areas’. The route carries over 10,000 passenger journeys every day.

The new vehicles will be similar in appearance to the current Volvo 7900 hybrids already in service at Lothian, but will boast additional components including roof-mounted charging rails. Four charging stations will be built, two at each end of the route, to allow the vehicles to receive a full charge during the layover period.

In each AQMA, the bus will switch from hybrid to electric power using GPS technology. An estimated 40% of the route will be covered using electricity.

 

Related coverage in the latest issue of Passenger Transport:

 

‘Cities should test technology’
But Keolis CEO is wary of ‘massive investments’

 

This article appears inside the latest issue of Passenger Transport.

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