Monday, August 27, 2012

New Bus Technology

BrizCommuter has been in self imposed exile for 12 days, trying to lower his blood pressure from TransLink's incompetence, multiple fixed fares due to faulty go card readers, and the Inner Northern Busway still experiencing full buses. As part of his therapy, BrizCommuter has written this blog post looking at new bus technology that the rest of world is experiencing.

Capacitor Buses

Capacitor buses have been primarily developed in the USA and China, the latter country having many cities with very frequent (and overcrowded) bus routes. These electric powered buses charge supercapacitors (AKA ultracapacitors) using an overhead collection system at bus stops. The capacitors can charge very quickly (in minutes), but unfortunately they also discharge very quickly. This currently limits range per charge to a few kilometres. However, longer range versions (30km+) are being developed. Claims have been made from manufacturers of 90% fuel savings compared to diesel buses, as well as being 40% cheaper than lithium ion battery powered buses. Power supply infrastructure has to be installed at charging points. Future developments may include inductive charging, with the charging device under the road instead of above the bus.  A YouTube video showing a partial charge is shown below.

Hybrid Buses

With the Toyota Prius being a popular choice for taxis, it is surprising that hybrid buses are not more widespread. The high purchase cost may be a factor. Supercapacitor technology may also make inroads into hybrid buses, with more efficient energy storage from braking to be re-used in acceleration.

Plug-in Electric Buses

There are now a few commercially available buses that charge lithium ion batteries which can power the bus for more than 100km. One of these is the 13 seat Oreos 2X, and 25 seat Oreos 4X from French company Power Vehicle Innovation. Another example is the 8.9m long Urbino Electric from Polish company Solaris. Plug-in electric buses typically require approximately 4 hours per charge, making them potentially unsuitable for all day long use.

Adelaide even has a solar powered electric bus called Tindo. However, the solar panels are placed on the bus station, rather than on the bus, requiring the bus to be charged. Unless solar panel technology can make huge efficiency improvements, then solar powered buses are unlikely to become commonplace.

Hydrogen Fuel Cell Buses

Multiple manufacturers have built more than 100 (in total) hydrogen fuel cell buses for cities around the world, mainly for testing purposes. Hydrogen fuel cells are considerably more energy efficient that internal combustion engines on diesel and gas powered buses. They require hydrogen filling stations, and store the hydrogen in tanks (usually on the roof). Given the CNG bus explosions in Brisbane and Korea, BrizCommuter is a little bit concerned about having hydrogen tanks on top of a bus! As with many other "green" technologies, the overall cost of ownership is currently relatively high. Perth trialled three hydrogen fuel cell buses, the hydrogen being created as a by-product from an oil refinery.

The reality

Apparently a retrofit fast charging electric bus (? technology) which can charge in just 10 minutes is currently being developed for SE Queensland by Varley Electric Vehicles in Virginia, QLD. However the current status of this bus is unknown. Whilst more environmentally friendly than Brisbane's current buses, many of the above technologies may suffer from a higher total cost of ownership. Given the current irresponsible "slash and burn" LNP government, BrizCommuter cannot see these new bus technologies in SE Queensland for the foreseeable future until there are clear economical advantages (which may include local manufacturing), and not just environmental advantages. Supercapacitor buses may well be the first to have economical advantages, and this technology is rapidly advancing. Holding off for longer range versions that only require charging at termini may be sensible.

TransLink do need to take a serious look at the latest offerings of smaller and more economical electric (or hybrid) mini and midi-buses for use of routes with low patronage that does not require a full sized bus. These shorter buses may also find it easier to negotiate some of SE Queensland's anti-bus designed housing developments. However, long charge times are currently a limitation for plug-in electric versions. Holding off for faster charging versions may be sensible.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

TransLink Ekka Rip-Off

TransLink taking passengers for a ride?
BrizCommuter travelled to the Ekka by train on the Exhibition Wednesday public holiday, using his go card as two zone 1-2 off-peak fares should be cheaper than using the $6 Ekka special return ticket. However, as BrizCommuter touched off at Exhibition Station, he was shocked to be charged a peak fare!

Just to clarify, it was a public holiday in Brisbane. The train service provided was a Saturday service, which is most definitely an off-peak train service. TransLink's own website states that off-peak fares occur on "gazetted public holidays" - link. So why are TransLink charging peak fares to go card users? This is yet another example of TransLink's incompetence, after they laid on bus routes duplicating train lines for this years Ekka.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

London Olympics 2012 vs Gold Coast Commonwealth Games 2018

Image Source: Wikipedia user Sunil060902
Public transport options to get to/from London 2012's Olympic Stadium evening sessions (tph = trains per hour per direction):

  • London Underground - Jubilee Line - 24tph 
  • London Underground - Central Line - 30tph + 24tph 
  • Docklands Light Railway - Stratford Branch - 12tph
  • Docklands Light Railway - Stratford International Branch - 12tph
  • National Rail - Javelin Trains (pictured right)- 12tph 
  • National Rail - Greater Anglia - 14tph + 14tph
  • National Rail - North London Line - 6tph
Public transport options to get to/from the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games Stadium (Carrara)
  • A few buses
Write your own conclusion!

Friday, August 3, 2012

Still un-fare!

Mediocre fare structure
By all accounts, the recent move to the 9 journey cap for go card users has been a huge success, with 75,000 users taking advantage of the free fares after the ninth, and those users averaging 2.2 free trips. The ministerial statement is below:

The downside, is that this may cause yet more farebox revenue leakage, a huge problem when Brisbane already has a whopping 75% public transport subsidy. This farebox leakage due to the 9 journey cap could reach $30m, equivalent to adding 15 minute off-peak services on two more train lines. There is something seriously wrong when the fares are high, the subsidy is high, and the product - the public transport service - is so shoddy. The previous ALP governments failed attempt to reducing subsidy by increasing fares, just turned public transport users back to their cars, thus reducing the fare income. The current LNP government still plan on extortionate 7.5% annual fare hikes which will continue to make public transport less affordable and less attractive.

What can be done to reduce this mess? Firstly, the public transport network needs to be made more efficient. Better use of resources, infrastructure, and staff whilst making public transport use more attractive (higher frequency core bus and train routes). The new LNP government has started on this, but considerably more needs to be done including sorting out Brisbane Transport! Secondly, the fare structure needs to be an attractive alternative to using a car. BrizCommuter suggests using a fare structure similar to that utilised on London Underground (Oyster Card) with single fares, weekly/monthly/yearly zone based passes, and automatic daily zone based capping. The London Underground fare page is here:
  • Replace 9 journey cap with a zone based weekly/monthly/yearly pass equivalent to 9 peak journeys/week for chosen zones - The current 9 journey cap allows the system to be abused by longer distance commuters (notably Sunshine Coast and Gold Coast Line users) who gain at least 1 free long distance journey in a typical working week, or more if they make extra short journeys in their lunch break. A go card based weekly pass would not allow this abuse of the fare system. With this system, occasional single fares outside of the purchased zones are automatically deducted from go card credit as single journey extensions. 
  • Zone based daily journey cap (does not apply to passengers with weekly pass) - Off-peak and peak period zone based caps priced between 3 and 4 single journeys. If the cost of the combined single journeys matches or exceeds the relevant cap, you pay no more. Useful for tourists! 
  • Single journey zone based fares restructured -  currently inner-suburban commuters pay the worlds 3rd highest fares, which is deterring public transport use, whilst outer suburban commuters pay cheaper fares than many major international cities. The fare structure needs to make using public transport more attractive to inner-suburban commuters who have considerably more environmentally sustainable lifestyle choices (i.e. living closer to work) than highly subsidised longer distance commuters.
  • Limit fare rises - enough is enough! Fare rises should be no more than public servant wage increases.