In the 4th Environmentally Friendly Vehicles conference in Delhi, authorities and policy makers from all over the world mixed with research institue leaders and representatives from industry from all over the world.
Authorities urgently needs to agree on what is actually meant by environmentally friendly vehicles. Presently Industry is confused by different prioirties all over the world, such as ethanol, biodiesel, biogas, natural gas and hydrogen in different shapes. Sure some local variation is to be expected but some basic elemets should be possible to agree on in order to bring some harmonisation of the demand. Is a car running on electricity from a coal fired power plant more environmentally friendly than a modern diesel car?
Biofuels were discussed a lot and Indian minister of Environment, Jairam Ramesh, was clear on that biofuels that compete with food production will have a hard time to gain acceptance. In India “securing food for everyone is of paramount importance”. Personnally, I feel that this should be the natural standpoint for all countries. It was also reported that India decided for and made investments for natural gas infrastructure to be completed for more than 200 cities by 2015. The Indian gas trend was initiated by a court order in 1998 for city smog abatement. Now, gas is promoted also for securing the supply.
It was concluded in the proceedings that important elements of environmentally friendliness are: energy efficiency, emissions of green house gases such as carbon dioxide and emissions of hazardous components such as Nox and particulates. But, it was not said which is the relative importance; an information of large importance for the industry to make the right investments for the 20 years to come…
By this time of the year Sweden sores serenely into the fog and darkness. Today, we have daylight between 07:20 in the morning to 16:34 in the afternoon. The temperature is about 10 C and the rain is pouring sideways against my office window in the brisk breeze.
I am glad that I didn’t take the bike as I planed this morning. For the buses at least no energy is consumed by the air conditioning but the wet streets and the wind increase the fuel consumption a lot. When the winter is getting colder in the Nordic countries we turn on the coupé heater to get a descent atmosphere in the cars and the buses.
On the other hand a walk in the forest can still be quite rewarding. There are still plenty of rose hips, blackthorn and juniper berries to harvest.
Last Thursday I got to visit our bus factory in Hosakote, close to Bangalore, India. Its the newest and most modern of the Volvo Bus plants. The engine and chassis frame is shipped from Sweden but the rest of the bus is built piece-by-piece in the factory. I was struck by the orderly set-up for the manufacturing of parts that make up the body. In the internal “super market” all pipes and sheets are orderly sorted in groups.
As Environmental Director, I automatically keep an eye on environmental risks and hazards, even if this was not the purpose of the visit. And, I dare say, from what I saw the routines and practical arrangement well meet the expectations on a modern automotive plant any where in the world. No doubt I and my Swedish Volvo colleagues have good reasons to be proud of the factory and our colleagues in India.
When travelling I mostly bring my favourite travel mates: Jogging shoes and my GPS/pulse watch. The latter comes in handy also when analysing the transports that I undertake between different meetings. This week for example I could note that the average speed to the factory was 28 km/h. And crossing the city was with a pace of less than 10 km/h. The slow speed results in a large environmental impact by increased fuel consumption of all vehicles that idles along in the queue.
My last visit to India was undertaken in February 2008. Since then a notable increase in traffic density has evolved. This was also the experience of my colleagues, they need typically one and a half hour to get to work in the traffic. With risk of being a true Besserwisser after just three days; I say, the public transports needs to get higher priority and status. Separate lanes are only rarely applied. BRT systems would make a huge difference to the congestion problems. The attractiveness of public transport can be improved further when cities offers a fast and prioritised service. High capacity bus services will decrease the congestion issues already with the existing infra structure.
But, consistentcy in the implementation is crucial for success:
-Separate lanes (with physical wall to exclude abuse by two and three wheelers)
-Priority at trafic lights
-Pre payed ticketing
-Access to bus stops similar to train (tunnel/bridge etc)
Before returning to Sweden I was invited to the Indian Institue of Science to give a seminar on our new hybrid technology. The seminar was hosted by CISTUP and organised by “Praja.in”
an independent public interest group. We had a very constructive dialogue about public transports, energy efficiency, high capacity buses, road infra structure and hybrid technology.
Traffic jam by Phloen Chit, at some exceptional occasions, like in the picture, person transports are done by truck.
In rapidly growing cities the infra structure for transportation of people and goods needs to be developed in parallel to the growing municipality. The transportation of people can be done by walking or with two or three wheelers, cars, buses, trains or metro. The local conditions to some extent influence the preferred traffic solution, with respect to economical and environmental cost. The cost for the transports is both for infrastructure (such as roads, rails, bridges), vehicles (for example motorcycles, cars, buses, trains) but also for the time that people spend during travel and for most transports there is an environmental cost associated with the chosen mix.
In a highly unscientific study during my recent stay in Bangkok I found that Bangkok has lots of traffic jams. Not only during rush hours. There is a blend of all sorts of means for transports. The metro and the so called “sky train” are covering a part of the city centre. The bulk amount of public transports are done by buses. However, it seems that most people goes by car. With some exceptions the buses run under the same traffic conditions as cars.
Once I went with a Tuc Tuc, 5 km in 25 minutes and I took the taxi twice (12 km taking 30 and 45 minutes) each. In a flowing traffic it would have been faster to go by bike. Some times $1 is used as a key number for cost of travel time (measured as loss of working hours or what we are prepared to pay for shorter travel time). If the average person in Bangkok use 15 minutes extra per day due to traffic congestion problems the cost for the congestion time corresponds to about 450 million dollars a year. The fuel saving for less stops and less idling of cars and buses will be about 20% if the pace can be increased by 30%. I very roughly estimate this to give 1.5 billon dollars value of fuel, a year.
Together with the fuel saving, assuming that the persons still travel by the same transports as today, about two billion dollars can be saved each year if the traffic congestion can be improved. In addition, our experience from Bogota and Mexico city is that there is a behaviour change that goes along with increased availability of public transports. Mainly people chose to leave the car at home. Such a change also generates money.
In addition the environmental cost is substantially higher. We know from statistics that the average speed in cities like Bangkok, with some prioritisation for public transports, is about 15 km/h (all traffic included, all time of day). We also know that it is possible to double the speed on “trunk bus lines” and that the speed can be increased by 30% by traffic prioritisation. The decreased environmental cost for emissions of nitrogen oxides, particulates and carbon dioxide ads up to an additional 10% savings.
Stand still in traffic at Mo Chit
There is a natural organisation of the taxis, minibuses and buses at the market at Mo Chit. The traffic moves very slowly, if it moves at all. In the picture above only the lane to the left moves. There is a new fleet generation of minibuses that, from my perspective, ads little to the capacity but brings a lot of disturbance to the traffic pattern. To the left in the picture from Mo Chit, the concrete building of the sky train is visible.
Motorcycle drivers with helmets in Bangkok
The two wheelers make a story of their own. The motorbikes float between the cars and trucks, as the sand trickles between the pebbles at the beach. They end-up ahead of the four wheelers at the traffic lights and get a considerably higher speed than other vehicles. It is thus the preferred way to catch up some time if your taxi gets stuck in the traffic. I saw two traffic accidents with motorbikes involved. It seems that motor bikers lives on the edge, in another way than we usually mean back home.
Bangkok, like most growing cities, seems to have multiple questions to solve, if I may focus on the transports of persons:
-Offer more public transport to the same cost (increased cost efficiency).
–> By providing BRT (bus rapid transit) to the suburbs.
-Decrease congestion “losses” and improve the efficiency of the transports:
–> By providing much more separate lanes for buses. And, daring to remove lanes for other transports.
–> By giving priority at traffic lights in order of capacity.
-Decrease the environmental impact
–> Decrease number of two wheelers, three-wheelers and cars.
–> Provide clean public transports
A well developed BRT system, similar to the one in Bogota, requires some political guts but also the total cost for the person transports for society and for the people will be decreased. The environmental impact of energy, use, carbon dioxide emissions and hazardous emissions of NOx and particulates will decrease by at least 30% (change in travel behaviour not included). The available bus fleet will provide a base for feeder lines.
With those measures, the public transports will become much faster and preferred by most citizens, because of the reduced travel time. It will be positive also for the car users in the end, even if it will be slower to go by car as compared to the bus, still it will be faster than today.