Trolleybuses seem like a really good idea. They don’t have to carry around big batteries and they never need to stop and charge since they can just run on overhead wires. But do they make sense in our cities now that we live in a dangerous world of extreme weather?
Because the Trolleybuses run on set routes that can’t be changed, what happens if you get localised flooding from extreme rainfall? You can’t just divert the buses around the flood like you could with a battery bus.
Maybe you could fit them with batteries small enough that would allow them to circumvent a flooded area but not too big to increase the weight by a huge amount. There’s also a potential problem with the overhead wires being affected by extreme heat. But that is also a risk for trams and trains so not really relevant here. Although perhaps the way Trolleybus pantographs hold the wires rather than lift up to touch them makes them more resistant to sagging wires than pantographs on trams and trains.
I think we’re going to see a lot of variation in bus drivetrains. We’re already seeing hydrogen buses up in Scotland which are at the moment pretty well suited to the rural routes, and EV buses in city centres. I don’t see new trolleybuses being installed in places that don’t already have them unfortunately, but hopefully I’m wrong about that.
But cities that do have them really need to promote the buses to the people once private cars are finally banned. Let them know that we were right the first time about public transport, and that car ownership was an epic mistake we can recover from.
Elon Musk recently tweeted that he didn’t believe public transport as it exists today is viable for the future. That’s not due to Covid. He’s always thought that personal public transport is the future. As much as I wish Tesla had made a bus, because it could have made a huge impact by now if they had, I also think he’s correct. Tesla RoboTaxis combined with Boring Company “Loop” systems of tunnels and stations could kill off local traditional offerings. Especially in countries which don’t have very good public transport.
It’s sad when you consider what Tesla could have done by now had they wanted to. But to be fair to them, if the company had gone down the route of making buses back in the Model S early days then they probably wouldn’t have generated the same hype it did and Tesla probably wouldn’t have got to where it is right now.
Luckily we have companies like Proterra whose CEO, former Tesla exec Ryan Popple probably left because he also knew that Tesla wasn’t interested in traditional buses. Companies like Proterra and Arrival will help to keep the bus industry somewhat innovative over the coming years. And combined with EV models from the traditional European makers and the huge Chinese brands that have taken over the industry in the last decade or so should keep buses relevant for a while yet. Yutong and BYD are making a lot of electric buses, but are not really innovating that much in my view. They’re basically making exactly the same buses, just with batteries. And that’s a good thing for the time being. But I don’t think that will be enough in the longer term to persuade people to keep riding the bus when far more advanced mobility solutions come along. And that’s an inevitability.
And this is all before you talk about e-bikes and e-scooters cutting into their ridership. There’s going to be a lot of change in the next decade. I think to keep ridership high, they’re going to have to invest heavily in other aspects of the business like linking in with MaaS, smartcards such as Oyster, and other helpful features to make travelling as seamless as possible for passengers. My local bus company has done it the other way round. They have a pretty decent app with live tracking, digital ticketing and a smartcard for season ticket holders. But no EVs at all. They really need to fix that quickly. But with Covid dragging on forever, they’ll be able to roll out every excuse in the book as to why they can’t ditch diesel. So who knows how this will play out.
In order to talk about trains I need a whole other post. I’ll be talking about Hyperloop and the threat it poses to high speed rail.
One of the things that frustrates me most as a cycling enthusiast is when people buy cheap, junk bikes because they think bikes are overpriced or they can’t afford one.
So I decided to do a little calculation to compare riding the bus for short journeys (5 miles or less) around town over a year to buying a bicycle, to see which comes out ahead on price (not to mention fun, health benefits etc).
I looked on the Stagecoach bus website for Worthing and found that a Worthing 52 Week Megarider season ticket costs £603 per year. Compared to buying a ticket on the bus or via the app per ride (or even compared to monthly season tickets), it goes without saying that it’s a bargain and I would get it if I was a daily bus passenger.
So if I was to ride a bicycle for all of these short trips around town instead, I could spend about £600 on it. Except you tend to keep a bike for several years at least. So I think it’s fair to say that I could spend around £1800 on bikes and equipment. And after 3 years I could keep it and continue saving, or buy another one if I felt like it.
The money adds up, but why not just buy a cheap new or used bike and save even more? Cheap new bikes generally use worse components which will end up lasting far less time than more expensive ones (up to a point where it becomes mainly about weight). This will mean more maintenance costs for you, higher likelihood of the bike letting you down during a ride, for example with a dropped chain during your commute, which no one wants. When you buy a more expensive bike, the components are more reliable, work better and are longer lasting. And that’s before you get into things like belt drives and internal hub gearing which take the benefits to a whole new level.
Buying second hand can be a good idea if you get lucky, but in my experience, I think you’ll struggle to find a bike in a good enough condition at a low enough price. You often find people selling bikes in the hundreds of pounds when they need a lot of work. To the point where it makes more sense to just buy new. I hope that as cycling matures and more people buy better quality bikes, and actually look after the bikes they own, it will become better. But for now, I would recommend to buy a good quality new one. It’ll pay for itself in the long run. And perhaps even in the short run. If you replace an Oyster season ticket in London with a Brompton you could save thousands every year.