All aboard for the quiet revolution
Chinese technology is driving major changes in the way that London’s famous buses and taxis are powered
There’s a quiet revolution taking place on London’s busy streets – and China is at the heart of it. There are no banner-waving protesters demanding the government step down, no students calling for a national strike. This revolution has crept up on the United Kingdom’s capital with hardly a whisper.
Sitting in a traditional London taxi recently, its Nissan diesel engine rumbling away, I suddenly sawa sleek, red single-decker London bus creep up silently beside us. Being a keen observer, I noticed theBYDlogo on the front of the vehicle. Yes, it wasmy first sighting of the advance guard of a fleet of electric-powered buses being produced by China’s electric vehiclemakerBYD.
There are only two of the buses in service at present. They are operated by Go-Ahead, one of the capital’s main companies serving the Transport for London bus network.
Immediately, you notice the absence of the usual clattering noise of a diesel engine. The only visible sign that this vehicle is in anyway different is the large oblong white box on the roof that houses the battery pack. Oh, and a logo on the side saying “electric powered”.
The buses can traverse London’s notorious traffic for up to 290 kilometers on a single charge, and Chinese engineers have helped their local counterparts install the necessary high-speed charging points at bus terminals.
The two single-deckers in Go-Ahead’s fleet have now been in trouble-free service for two years.
But here’s the thing. They are simply an advance guard for an even bigger event— the advent this autumn of a fleet of electric-powered double-deckers, with the drive train provided by BYD and the bodywork by Scottishbased coachwork maker Alexander Dennis Ltd.
BYD has worked to overcome the main problem facing electric-powered double-deckers— where to put the battery packs.
Single-deckers are easy, since they have space to spare when negotiating bridges and tunnels in London. But advances in battery design means they no longer have to be installed on the roof of the vehicle but can be housed within the bodywork.
The newvehicles will boast zero emission. Transport for London says it aims to have all its buses emissions-free by 2020.
But that’s not all the good news— Geely, the Chinese automaker that now owns the London Taxi company, has unveiled the latest black cab for London’s busy streets.
Looking remarkably similar to the existing diesel-powered models, it is all-electric, with a small Volvo-designed petrol engine on standby to recharge the battery and extend the range, if needed.
That, in effect, makes it as close to zero-emission as it’s possible to be, given the range black taxis need.
However, it’s going to be a hard sell to win over licensed London taxi drivers, who are among the most highly trained yet conservative in the world, thanks to the two year “Knowledge” course that gives them an unrivalled understanding of London’s complex streets – and not a satnav in sight.
Alf, who drove me in his cab the other day, is a case in point. He’s been driving a cab for 25 years, and owns his own taxi.
“This cab is in pristine condition, yet TfL insists it cannot be used after 19 years. So, I have no alternative but to scrap it. What a waste,” he says. “Will I buy a newelectric cab? I don’t know. I’mtoo old to worry about range. Some ofmy mates say they will, but it’s a huge expenditure for a virtually untried system. Maybe I’ll just rent one— but I won’t make as much money.”
TfL has said all taxis will have to be zero emissions by 2023. It remains to be seen whether London’s tightly knit cab drivers’ society will embrace the revolution.