Not content with having inspired a new London bus, Hilton Holloway argues the case for turning it into a trolley bus
18 December 2012

Five years ago, in the 2007 Christmas issue, Autocar commissioned an engineering proposal for a new-generation Routemaster bus. We thought it was time that old-fashioned buses, using commercial vehicle technology, were brought up to date. They needed to be slicker, more appealing and far less polluting.

Boris Johnson liked the idea. When he became mayor, he commissioned a design competition for a new bus. The result was an electrically driven, range-extender hybrid double-decker with three doors and two staircases. Last year we drove the final production version of the New Bus for London (NB4L), designed and manufactured by Wrightbus.

With 600 of the new buses recently ordered, we thought we might build on that success by suggesting the next step in the updating of the UK’s miserable inner-city public transport network. It’s time to bring back the electrically driven trolley bus.

Although hybrid buses are much better in terms of air pollution (the NB4L’s engine/generator is nearly half the size of a typical bus engine), high bus density and busy, narrow streets concentrate the problem. Oxford Street is an extreme example. It has an estimated 200 million visitors per year, who have to fight with 300 buses per hour.

The biggest problem for Edinburgh – and any other city that wants a tram network – is the massive cost of digging down into the road and moving all the underground services. It is estimated at £80m per mile just to lay the track. The cost for doing the same on 1.5 miles of Oxford Street can only be imagined.

This is where the trolley bus comes in. Although it takes power from overhead cables, it is otherwise a normal bus, running on the existing road surface. And because the NB4L is a series hybrid (it has an engine/generator that is not connected to the wheels), it could be converted remarkably easily to become a trolley bus.

The answer to Oxford Street’s woes – and many other unattractive shopping centres around the UK – is pedestrianisation and the replacement of the regular buses with a trolley bus shuttle service running between the new Crossrail station at Tottenham Court Road in the east and Marble Arch in the west.

The overhead power wires could be contained on a central pylon system, so the shuttle trolley buses run parallel, close to the centre of the road. The NB4L’s three doors and two staircases mean that getting people on and off would be a swift process. The unobstructed route would also allow the bus to brake entirely on its motors, eliminating the tiny particles given off from the pads and discs by friction braking. The result would be public transport that is not only free of any kind of air pollution, particulates or noise pollution but is also hugely cheaper than a tram.

Ironically, trolley buses were a common site around the UK until the early 1960s, when they were forced off the road by diesel buses. It seems increasingly likely that they are now the clean-air future for many of the UK’s bigger towns and cities.

See Autocar’s Christmas double issue for the full story, on sale tomorrow. 

As ever, the magazine is available from all good newsagents, or available for download from Zinio or the Apple iTunes store.

Join the debate

Comments
24

18 December 2012

Hilton, I have commented below the line of one of your previous blogs that electrification seems well suited to buses, where their usage is predictable and they repeat the same route day to day. This removes the "range anxiety" issue with electric cars, where users worry about having enough juice in the vehicle for unplanned, longer journeys.

A few years ago there was talk about replaceable battery packs - where the entire battery pack could be removed and replaced with a fresh, fully charged item. Again, for cars there are problems over standardisation and design of the chassis etc, but for a bus these problems seem surmountable - at the end of its route, the bus could stop over a specially designed mechanics pit, where the batteries could be removed for recharging and replacements fitted.

While trolley buses are attractive in some ways (and you make a good point about the particle pollution caused by wearing brake pads), the overhead cables themselves are ugly and still require considerable investment to fit. They also mean the bus must absolutely stick to the same route, causing problems if there is a diversion due to roadworks or an accident.

Has development of swappable battery packs stalled, or is this a viable solution? I would have thought that the next step would be the electrification of delivery fleets, such as home shopping etc.

Aside from CO2 issues (where we disagree), this would have the very welcome benefit of improving the appalling air quality in our cities.

18 December 2012

"The result would be public transport that is not only free of any kind of air pollution" - What planet are you on Hilton ! ? Pollution would probably be LOWER, but they would NOT be pollution free, unless you know of some magic, pollution free way of developing enough electricity !

18 December 2012

Trolley buses were forced off the road in the early 60's due to their inconvenience.

Can you imagine the hold ups when a trolley bus breaks down and no other buses can pass it.

The amount of wiring needed was huge. Just look at old photo's. If you had trolley buses using the centre traffic lanes pasengers would have tp get off into the path of traffic using the inner lanes.

Although you would reduce pollution from the engines and possibly the brakes the tyres would still produce lots of particulate matter.

Much city pollution comes from the huge numbers of cars exhausts and construction not the relatively few buses. THe worst worlwide cities  for pollution are those where diesel vehicles are few in number. Cities like London nowadays stretch for many miles in diameter from Romford to Heathrow is one big urban sprawl.

The problem with any public transport system is that the cost is so great to the taxpayer in subsidies whether trains or buses unlike the private motor car that contributes huge surplus revenues to the Treasury.

Would more public transport make you give up driving H. H. or is it only others that need to stop driving so you can continue as before?

maxecat

18 December 2012

The problem with Edinburgh was that the councillors wanted a trainset for Christmas.   Then they decided they knew how to orgainse a huge construction project better than the experts, only later to say they were out of their depths.

Edinburgh trams have been nothing short of an embarrassement.   There's still huge big holes being dug all over Edinburgh!

The tram route replaces one route, the Number 22 bus, but then only from the city centre to the airport.   For £ 800 million (probably more) how many buses could Edinburgh have bought?   They could have invested in cleaner buses for the whole of the city.   And been able to do so again many times over years down the line.

18 December 2012

@ Maxecat,

Take your argument to its logical conclusion, and remove all subsidy for public transport. You would remove the burden from the taxpayer, and no doubt sales executives who live on motorway corridors would raise a cheer.

But without subsidy, many people on low wages would be unable to travel altogether, the roads would become complete gridlock, and countless others earning good money would be unable to work at all.

An efficient and affordable public transport system is critical to the functioning of most modern cities - and therefore, critical to the functioning of a modern economy. Unless you are Pol Pot and believe in an agrarian revolution, subsidies are here to stay.

The next step is to stop our transport system killing people or making them ill!

18 December 2012

scrap wrote:

@ Maxecat,

Take your argument to its logical conclusion, and remove all subsidy for public transport. You would remove the burden from the taxpayer, and no doubt sales executives who live on motorway corridors would raise a cheer.

But without subsidy, many people on low wages would be unable to travel altogether, the roads would become complete gridlock, and countless others earning good money would be unable to work at all.

An efficient and affordable public transport system is critical to the functioning of most modern cities - and therefore, critical to the functioning of a modern economy. Unless you are Pol Pot and believe in an agrarian revolution, subsidies are here to stay.

The next step is to stop our transport system killing people or making them ill!

And the reason why some people are on such low wages when in full time work whilst still paying taxes? Public transport, or indeed any other service provided for by taxes, is not a critical part of society. The only critical part of society is the part that generates money. Without that there can be absolutely no public services or subsidies.

If everyone were to abandon commuting by car to work or travel by car for business use there would be no money to pay for subsidised public transport.

As H.H. commented the worst vehicles in London are the buses with very old design engines and the same in taxis. Mainly caused by regulations enforcing ancient rules for taxis giving a smalll company who make taxis a virtual monopoply and little incentive to proiduce modern vehicles and even then manage to go bust. The buses run on subsidised fuel removing the normal incentive to modernize their fleet to reduce fuel consumption as is normal with the competitive haulage industry.

 

maxecat

18 December 2012

 

To be honest Mr Holloway I don't believe the concern of Oxford Street shoppers, and traders, is the pollution but rather the sheer quantity of buses which, combined with idiotic numbers of traffic lights, causes too much congestion - which gives rise to the high levels of pollution, surely?

 

Slim down the number of buses that use Oxford Street as a primary route (Seymour, Wigmore, and Mortimer Streets run parallel and still make Oxford St accessible), make them all hybrid and surely the issue, from both sides of the equation - pollution and congestion - goes away?

 

Strip out some of the crossing traffic, remove some of the traffic lights, and it gets even better.

 

Bearing in mind Oxford St - the main part of it - is served by four Underground Stations, with five lines, plus Crossrail, when it arrives, and the argument for having quite so many buses at street level is puzzling.

 

18 December 2012

If trolleybuses were introduced, and taxis with quickly exchangeable batteries, London's air quality would be transformed in 20 years.  It is one of the world's leading cities, in 10-20 years it could be one of the world's cleanest cities.

The trick would be to get Boris to believe in it.  (Preferably let him think that the idea was his). London is a wealthy city, and Boris is a strong and popular leader who could drive through such a project.  Well done Autocar for promoting this great idea!

18 December 2012

There are trolley buses operated in the centre of Vancouver, BC.  A modern city with all the same traffic problems as London. Only attitude, I suspect, would prevent similar systems working here

18 December 2012

 

I would imagine WCC would struggle to grant planning permission for the cabling and posts, especially as they will be strung up outside of many listed buildings.

 

In addition, as I mentioned in another thread, the power infrastructure of the area is barely adequate now.  I don't know what kind of consumption trolleybuses take, but it would have to be tiny, or some major work would have to be done to power them - and I think the retailers in New Bond Street that are currently running off temporary generators - in the run up to Christmas - would want to see some of that action first.

 

 

Pages

Add your comment

Log in or register to post comments

Find an Autocar car review

Driven this week

  • Jaguar E-Pace P300
    First Drive
    19 November 2017
    Jaguar’s second SUV faces up to the Audi Q3, BMW X1 and Mercedes-Benz GLA. Tough task, so is the E-Pace up to it?
  • Jaguar E-Pace D180
    First Drive
    19 November 2017
    Not the driver’s car many would hope from any car wearing the Jaguar badge, but the E-Pace is an attractive and interesting addition to the compact premium SUV ranks
  • Subaru Impreza
    First Drive
    17 November 2017
    The fifth-generation Subaru Impreza is much improved from top to bottom, but a poor engine and gearbox keep it trailing in this competitive class
  • Ford Fiesta Vignale
    First Drive
    17 November 2017
    We get a first taste of Ford’s poshest Fiesta in turbocharged diesel form
  • Seat Arona
    Car review
    17 November 2017
    Seat is on a roll but can the Arona, its new junior SUV, cut it in such an ultra-competitive class?