Uni team calls for electric bus switch

Local | Chuck Pang 24 Jan 2017

Hong Kong needs 100 electric buses and 100 electric minibuses to cut current air pollution levels with the vehicles costing about HK$300 million, according to researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Public transport vehicles are the major source of air pollution, contributing to 200 metric tons of suspended particles a year.

If all public transport vehicles switched to electric, roadside suspended particles would drop 17 percent, the researchers projected. They said existing electric buses are ill-suited for Hong Kong and recommended electric vehicles to use European exteriors and mainland batteries.

The PolyU team, with subsidies from the government's Central Policy Unit, visited about 10 cities last year, including Shenzhen, Chongqing, London and Munster, Germany, to observe operations of electric buses and minibuses.

The team found the electric vehicles are facing issues of unreliability and insufficient charging facilities.

Since the introduction of BYD electric buses from the mainland by Hong Kong bus operators, there were incidents such as sudden door openings, which caused the temporary suspension of the vehicles.

"It doesn't make sense for BYD to have staff stationed in Hong Kong for maintenance as there are too few electric buses in Hong Kong," said Hung Wing-tat, associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at PolyU.

He said Hong Kong has the right conditions and talent to develop specifications for electric bus manufacturers, taking into account Hong Kong's regulations and situation, such as road conditions, running time and number of seats.

"Government should proactively take the lead to provide policy and financial supports in purchasing electric buses as well as developing charging infrastructure, and all stakeholders - operators, bus manufacturers, battery suppliers, charging service provider - should work together," Hung said.

The team recommended a European vehicle exterior, which is more durable, and Lithium-titanate batteries made in the mainland with ultra-fast charging - just eight to 10 minutes of charging time for a 10-kilometer journey.

"China has been manufacturing batteries for a long time and there are a lot of large research and development facilities," said Lo Wai-chau, associate professor of electronic engineering at PolyU.

Mainland batteries are also used in European electric buses and charging facilities can be set up at bus terminals.

The team also said mainland drivers prefer electric buses to diesel ones.

"We interviewed the drivers personally and found that they prefer electric buses which are quieter and less hot," said Shum Yuet-hung, a researcher who had worked for Kowloon Motor Bus.

According to Transport Department figures, there were 7,193 single-deck buses, 5,779 double-deck buses and 7,431 minibuses in Hong Kong in 2015.

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