Success for eco-bus trial in Bath
A trial using an environmentally-friendly hybrid bus on Bath's park-and-ride routes has been hailed as a success.
Bus operator First commissioned the specialist vehicle as part of a EU-backed pilot scheme, to see if it was a suitable way of reducing pollution in the city centre.
It has been running for the past 18 months and, the firm says, has proved particularly well suited to the steep hills on the Lansdown and Odd Down routes.
The vehicle, funded by the EU's Civitas programme for heritage cities, has a small diesel engine, which is generally used at the beginning of the day to charge a battery pack.
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Once the battery is fully charged, the driver is able to turn the engine off and run completely on electricity, meaning the bus produces no emissions and is much quieter than a normal vehicle.
The bus also charges its battery every time it brakes, with kinetic energy being converted into electric energy, which is why the steep hills are useful.
John Birtwistle, project director for First, said feedback from the customers had been largely positive.
He said: "When the vehicle has been available for us it has performed well.
It is popular with drivers and with passengers and we have received some very good feedback from the relevant stakeholders.
"They like the fact it is quiet, it is a smooth ride and they like the fact it is environmentally-friendly. It seems a funny thing to say, but with passengers, if there is nothing to complain about, that is a good thing."
However, he said there had been problems getting new parts when the bus broke down, meaning it was off the road more often than the company would have liked.
But he said this was because the current vehicle was a prototype and that if First bought a fleet of hybrid buses then that would no longer be a problem.
First currently holds the contract for the park-and-ride services, but Bath and North East Somerset Council is about to put it back out for tender.
One of the proposals First has put forward is for a fleet of eight hybrid buses to be used full-time on the routes, and a decision is due to be made over the next few months.
A spokeswoman for the company said hybrid buses cost around £275,000 each, compared to £175,000 for a normal bus, but that Government funding was available to help out with the price.
Councillor Roger Symonds (Lib Dem, Combe Down), the council's cabinet member for transport, supports the use of more environmentally-friendly buses.
He said: "As an historic city, and World Heritage Site, Bath faces a unique series of transport challenges.
"The council has been working with partners to test an innovative range of more sustainable, clean and energy efficient urban transport methods through the Civitas project, which will be important in helping us develop our transport strategy for the years ahead.
"We must maintain our city's historical past while building a strong economy for the area, making sure it's a business-friendly city as well as a place tourists want to visit."