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A look at Public Transport

March 2, 2018

Guernsey has had a long history of public transport service provision. At one time, the island was at the forefront of public transport initiatives, starting with alternative

fuels. In 1879, the Guernsey Steam Tramway began running a tram service from St Peter Port to St Sampson. In 1892 the trams were electrified by Siemens who ran the service for the first year. This was the first ever commercial tramway in Britain to be powered with overhead cables. The service carried on for some forty years until it was no longer competitive against the emerging bus fleets.

 

Private bus operators brought investment after the first world war with Guernsey Railway Co. and Guernsey Motors being the main operators. Guernsey Railways operated in the north of the island and Guernsey Motors in the south. During the second world war, the service was halted altogether and revived after the war using the same, by now very run down fleet of buses. People at that time relied on public transport much more heavily than they do today. 

In the 1950's and 1960's Guernsey Railways ran a fleet of Albion Victors. A total of 39 petrol buses ran until the late 50's.  They were relatively slim and basic by modern standards but could seat 35 passengers. They proved reliable and economical, being able to do 12 to 16 miles per gallon. These were then replaced by Bristol SU's also using Albion engines. Guernsey Railway and Guernsey Motors merged in 1974 as number of passengers started to decline with the ever increasing popularity of the private motor car.  

 

The mainstay of the Guernsey bus fleet from 1992 to present has been the Dennis Dart SLF and the Enviro. The slightly smaller, more modern Wrightbus Streetvibe was introduced in 2016. There was a double decker bus service in the early 90's but it was found to be uneconomic to run.  The bus service was for many years run by private operators but nowadays is a public private partnership where the States owns the buses and they are managed through private contract over a period of five and a half years. 

 

The boxy, green single deck Dennis Darts were recently accompanied by the smaller Streetvibe bus which seats 31. The fuel economy of these diesel buses is only around 8-10 mpg, notably less than the buses of fifty years earlier. It's fair to say modern day buses have extra safety features to comply with regulations and fewer seats by comparison which may explain some of the reason for these poor consumption figures. It may also be that diesel is a poor fuel for very slow speed, stop and start driving as it needs fuel additive to run effectively.  An approximate estimate based on current fleet size of forty one buses suggests total diesel fuel consumption in the region of one million litres per year. In emissions terms, that translates to hundreds of tons of C02 annually so it delivers poorly in both efficiency and emissions and particularly so when the service is less than fully utilised.

With today's drivetrain and battery technology, the fleet could become electrified or even hybridised. This would help provide much lower running costs and these savings would filter back to islanders. The higher up front purchase and infrastructure cost would be offset by the lower running costs. In addition to the savings and reduced air pollution, electric drive buses would offer a more comfortable and quieter experience for travellers. 

 

We need a top down approach to reduce CO2 and particulate emissions and that means tackling the biggest causes of the problem; large fleet, high mileage operators, whether they be government owned buses, other public service vehicles or private fleets. It's time to tackle the big fleets where the impact and benefit can be greatest.

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