All things environmental

Musings about the environment and all it touches, from education to city planning

The buses of Hamburg, part three: supported and innovative

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All aboard the hybrid bus!

All aboard the hybrid bus!

In my last posts on the buses of Hamburg, I mentioned that the bus system is great.  Buses flow down Mönckebergstrasse seamlessly, without impacting the retailers of the street negatively; no mean feat considering this Hamburg’s equivalent to our Granville street.  I also mentioned that buses are on time and go everywhere, even to as surreal a destination as a sand dunes area within city limits.

The bottom line is that it is enjoyable to take the bus.  It’s a simple reality that is easy to overlook.  But there, it works.

Obviously, this doesn’t happen by accident.  There is a lot of government support behind it.  It is interesting to compare the numbers between Hamburg and Metro Vancouver, because the populations are not that different.  There are 2.5 million people in Metro against 1.7 million in Hamburg; but the numbers are fairly similar if we include some of the areas near Hamburg, such as Geesthacht, Pinneberg, Norderstedt, or Ahrensburg, all accessible from Hamburg’s transit system.

Last time I checked, Metro’s TransLink had 1307 full size buses on the road, versus only 777 buses in Hamburg.  Yet, the service seems better in Hamburg than in Vancouver.  The difference in land area that the buses service partially explains that situation:  Hamburg covers 755 square kilometers, against 2900 for Metro.  Obviously, it is difficult to provide service on urban sprawl.  This remains true even if we add the areas of the four municipalities mentioned above and include the smaller towns in between, we’re still under 1000 km2.  To make it fair, one ought to shave off from Metro all the forested and mountainous area not serviced by transit – or roads, for that matter, and get a more realistic service area of about 1500 km2.  And for a fair comparison, one needs to add the 80 or so blue buses of West Vancouver.  But there’s still better service in Hamburg.

But the main reason for the discrepancy is that the Hamburg buses play a supporting role to its very extensive rail system: 930 km of commuter train lines, 289 stations, and nearly 2000 train cars. (In contrast, the skytrain has about 80 km of lines and 300 cars.)  So there’s no equivalent of the under-capacity 99 B-line in Hamburg; there’d be a train already.

A fuel cell bus downtown Hamburg

A fuel cell bus, downtown Hamburg

Another way in which Hamburg demonstrates its support for its bus system is by adopting new models, with the objective of improving air quality and lowering the carbon footprint.  Hamburg has no trolley buses, and the bulk of its fleet runs on diesel.  But it has recently acquired eight Volvo hybrid articulated buses.  With regenerative braking system and lithium batteries, these buses reduce their CO2 emissions by 75%.  In addition, the fleet now includes six hydrogen fuel-cell buses; these, of course, produce no carbon emissions at all.

These new additions are the first steps of a very ambitious program: Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s mayor, declared in 2014 that as of 2020 any new additions to the fleet will be zero-emission fuel cell buses.  In Hamburg, this is the sort of thing that a mayor can decide.

Another hybrid bus

Another hybrid bus

In contrast, the fleet of Vancouver fuel cell buses, all twenty of them, has been sold off following a very successful demonstration run between Whistler and Vancouver during the 2010 Olympics.  This was decided by TransLink, for financial reasons.  It’s difficult not to be disappointed by this turn of events.  Hamburg has been testing its buses on regular city runs for years, and this is why they can be confident in their decision.  A short run focussed on the Olympics, on the other hand, is enough for proof of concept, but much too short to really put the buses, and the system, through their paces.

This is not to slag TransLink.  Every system has its own peculiarities, and TransLink can only do what a particularly tight-fisted government in Victoria will allow.  They have great people and cheerful, helpful bus drivers.  Everything is in place to make riding the bus as fun an experience as in Hamburg.  Everything, except…well, we could use more buses, and more drivers.



Written by enviropaul

February 20, 2017 at 7:52 pm

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