Copenhagen Summit speaks to buses as the green solution

The outcome of the recent Copenhagen Summit on Global Warming was inconclusive and disappointing. Perhaps, it was not wise to hold the event in the frigid Danish capital.

Still, concern for the environment in Europe over the last few months is close to the top of political and social agendas, while the public has become more accustomed to the technical terms to describe global warming and vehicle emissions. Now NOx, CO2, hydrocarbons and particulate matter are more easily understood.

Europe is pressing ahead on the reduction of carbon emissions, and by 2012-2013 car manufacturers will have to meet tougher targets yet.

In Europe, all motorists have to pay an annual tax to use their vehicles on the roads. In some countries, like the United Kingdom, this is graduated so that ultra-clean vehicles pay little or nothing, while the most polluting pay a high level of tax.

National governments are likely to impose strict targets on towns and cities for the reduction in carbon emissions, and will likely lead to imposed charges to circulate in city centers such as in London and Stockholm.

London has also created a Low Emission Zone, roughly bounded by the circular M25 motorway that is approximately 15 miles in any direction from the city center. It costs just over $300 per day to take a non-compliant coach inside the London Low Emission Zone. These trends should be good news for bus and coach manufacturers and operators.

Although politicians would love to have more tram systems, they are prohibitively expensive to build per mile and take a long time to come to fruition. We have one classic example in Edinburgh, Scotland, where one cross-city route will end up costing nearly $1 billion. The construction phase is ongoing, but has already caused enormous disruption to the city bus system.

The challenge has therefore been to raise the profile of buses and coaches with politicians and legislators. At Busworld Kortrijk last October, the Busworld organization teamed up with the influential International Road Transport Union (IRU), Geneva, Switzerland, to launch Smart Move, a campaign to promote greater use of collective passenger transport by bus and coach worldwide.

Busworld and IRU recognize they are facing a major challenge. Regrettably, many people including politicians and the mass media remain unaware of how safe, environmentally friendly and affordable buses and coaches really are. Too often they are wrongly associated with common problems linked to road transport, such as pollution and congestion.

The promoters of Smart Move say the misperception has led to an under-performance of buses and coaches in terms of use and contribution to society, but also suffer from political negligence and often ill-informed and even restrictive legislation.

There is a shining example of this in London. After several batches of new Mercedes-Benz articulated buses had been put into service on some of the most heavily used routes, the evening newspaper launched a tirade against them, saying they were blocking intersections and causing unnecessary traffic congestion.

The incoming mayor pledged to get rid of them and to replace them with larger numbers of double-deck buses more suited to traffic conditions in London. One has to ask why articulated buses apparently did not work in London, when there are more than 20,000 working without problems in other European countries.

The Smart Move campaign aims to provide policy and opinion makers with updated facts and figures to ensure an informed debate in policy-making processes. They also aim to encourage people to switch from cars to buses whenever possible. They do not believe people will give up cars altogether, but hope they will become more selective when there is good, reliable, public transport.

The campaign believes that by advocating policies that support bus and coach travel at the local, national, regional and global level, hundreds of millions of car miles can be eliminated, dramatically contributing to road safety and to carbon reduction targets of governments throughout the world.

Smart Move is not a short-term campaign. Both Busworld and IRU recognize that it will take time and effort to achieve results, but the industry needs to raise its profile and image.

The two promoters took their campaign to the Copenhagen Conference. Graham Smith, IRU vice president, said: “It should be widely known that buses and coaches are the environmental champions among all modes of motorized passenger transport.”

According to Smith, in the UK coaches emit 0.05kg of CO2 per passenger-mile. That is half the CO2 emissions of the second best performer – trains.

IRU calculated that doubling the use of buses and coaches was therefore the smartest way of achieving sustainable mobility for all. Such an increase in Europe alone would save 50 million tons of CO2 per year, a reduction of 1.5 tons of CO2 per second.

IRU concluded that, for the road passenger transport industry, doubling the use of buses and coaches worldwide is a realistic policy. It is supported by the road transport industry’s pledge to cut 30 percent of its CO2 emissions by 2030, in close cooperation with manufacturers and public authorities. Collective passenger transport by bus and coach has the potential to contribute significantly to ambitious CO2 reduction targets. They appealed to the decision makers at the Copenhagen Conference to pursue the Smart Move objectives.

Already the more innovative bus and coach operators are playing the carbon card, getting the message across to city streets and inter-city highways. On both sides of the Atlantic, Stagecoach is promoting its Megabus express services by quoting the low carbon footprint per passenger. It seems to be getting through to students, because it is the younger generations who will feel the impact of global warming and shortage of fossil fuels.

The United States leads the world in the use of hybrid buses, but innovative solutions are now appearing in several other parts of the world. The British government recently set up a fund worth $50 million to promote the purchase of ultra-low carbon vehicles. The fund paid the difference in price between a standard diesel bus and one with much lower emission levels. The awards were announced in December, supporting the purchase of around 350 vehicles in England. (The governments in Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales have devolved powers for transport.

In Western Europe, all the main manufacturers have announced hybrid vehicles. In 2010 we are likely to see model development move from the prototype to early production stages. Orders are being announced regularly, with most manufacturers suggesting that the higher initial capital cost will be recovered over five to six years because of expected savings in fuel consumption. For operators, there are also other unknown factors, like battery life and maintenance procedures, but many recognize that they have to try out hybrid buses and gain practical experience with their own staff and networks.

Smart Move monitors all this progress and you can keep up to date by logging on to and clicking on the Smart Move symbol. This campaign not only deserves to succeed, it has to succeed if we are to make serious reductions in carbon emissions.

Doug Jack is with Transport Resources in the United Kingdom.