London goes electric – Second Time Around!

London goes electric – Second Time Around!

London is making a return to electric buses – after 35 years, reports FRANK BEETON

London Transport once ran the world’s largest fleet of electric buses. These were, of course, trolleybuses, which drew their electrical current from overhead wires. The London system ran from 1931 to 1962, and peaked at 1 811 vehicles. Most of these were built to highly standardised London Transport designs, being double-deck vehicles running on three axles.

Significantly, 43 vehicles, originally intended for export to Johannesburg and Durban, were diverted to London Transport during the Second World War, and became the first eight-foot wide buses to run in that city (all other London buses were 7’ 6” wide up until the early 1950s).

London’s trolleybus chassis were supplied by prominent British manufacturers AEC and Leyland. After the Second World War they were supplied by a cooperative venture run by these two companies, which was known as British United Traction.

Trolleybuses went out of fashion in the British area of influence in the 1960s, mainly because of their operational inflexibility through being tied to wires, and increasing operational costs. London standardised on diesel buses after 1962, and experienced several generations of special single- and double-deck designs that enjoyed varying degrees of success.

In recent times, the city has become increasingly concerned about pollution levels so, in 2006, the first hybrid driveline buses took to London’s streets, using a combination of diesel and electric power.

In 2013, test operations began with two single-deck, all-electric vehicles and since then there has been a growing interest in the more widespread use of zero-emission buses.

Interestingly, the first two all-electric buses were supplied by Chinese manufacturer, BYD. BYD Auto Company was founded in 2003 as a subsidiary of BYD Company, and the initials stand for “Build Your Dreams”.

This manufacturer has moved increasingly into the development and production of electric vehicles, including all-electric buses, and claims to be the world’s largest supplier of this vehicle type.

Early in July, Transport for London – the local government authority responsible for setting standards regulating the types of vehicles that may ply the streets of the British capital – contracted BYD to build up to five battery-electric, double-deck buses for trial in the city.

These 10,2-m vehicles will incorporate BYD’s proprietary in-wheel hub motors and regenerative braking system, and be capable of a 250 km operating range on a single charge of their iron-phosphate batteries.

They will enter service on Route 16 from October, bringing all-electric, double-deck buses back to London streets for the first time since 1962. TfL intends to add 300 electric buses to its fleet by 2020, making this initial contract extremely valuable to BYD, giving it an excellent opportunity to establish itself as a major potential supplier to this requirement.

It was initially thought that the battery pack required to power a double-deck bus would be too large and heavy to be practical, but BYD is confident this potential difficulty can be overcome.

Successful operation of the London prototypes may well open up further marketing opportunities for the supplier. These initial vehicles will be built at its Chinese production base.

Up to now, BYD has manufactured more than 5 000 electric buses, which have logged in excess of 50 million miles of service in more than 150 cities in 36 countries. The parent company manufactures LED lighting, photovoltaic cells and advanced environmentally friendly battery technologies. BYD’s electric vehicles notably make use of long life-cycle, iron-phosphate batteries, with a claimed low rate of degradation.

BYD currently builds its electric buses in China and Lancaster, California. The latter location recognises the high level of commitment to low-emission vehicles that has been demonstrated by the state of California, through its Air Resources Board, over many years. The plant is also intended to service public transportation markets across the whole of the United States and South America.

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