Iconic red buses go green

The quintessentially English double decker buses of London are set to be replaced by hybrids with massively reduced emissions.

The city has already begun replacing its single decker fleet with fuel-saving hybrids but, on Tuesday the Mayor, flanked by Friends of the Earth director Tony Juniper, unveiled the capital’s – and the world’s – first hybrid double decker.

Against the backdrop of the Stern review’s publication, Ken Livingstone told journalists that the city would be redoubling its efforts to fight climate change and the buses were just part of that strategy.

“We’ll be re-evaluating all City Hall policies to look at how radically and dramatically we can advance our CO2 reduction targets,” he said.

Hybrid buses, using a combination of diesel and electric power, are central to London’s plans for a greener fleet but are only a first step towards carbon neutral public transport.

“Hybrid vehicles can make a real contribution to a cleaner, greener public transport network for the capital,” said Mr Livingstone.

“But manufacturers and operators now need to rise to this challenge to make this economically and financially feasible.”

The prototype bus on display this week had come in at around £285,000, said the Mayor, almost twice the cost of a standard double decker which costs £160,000.

But once manufacturers get a production line up and running, costs are expected to plummet bringing the cost of the environmentally-friendly vehicles in line with their diesel-only cousins.

To give companies the incentive to do this, the Mayor pledged that the first firm to get hybrid double deckers into production would win all contracts to replace vehicles from the city’s fleet of 8,000 buses until the competition caught up and started marketing them too.

“Creating a low-carbon bus fleet is an important part of our work to cut the emissions which are causing climate damage,” he said.

“It’s an important step towards my vision that London becomes one of the world’s most sustainable cities.”

The hybrids are just the first step towards this, he said, and would be replaced by buses powered by fuel cells as soon as the technology became available and affordable.

“By the middle of the next decade we expect that we will have been able to develop a hydrogen fuel cell big enough to drive a double decker,” he said.

“The hybrids are the interim until we get that.”

Mr Livingstone also chose the launch of the bus to join Friends of the Earth’s Big Ask campaign, calling for a Climate Change Bill which would make annual carbon dioxide cuts a legal duty.

“As the Stern review has shown this week, the future of our economy as well as our environment rests on taking action now rather than waiting for problems to unfold,” he said.

Mr Juniper added: “If the UK is serious about tackling climate change we need legislation to ensure this happens.

“Mr Livingstone has played a prominent role in tackling London’s impact on climate change. We welcome his call today for national year-on-year cuts in carbon dioxide and news that he proposes similar measures for the capital.

“Hopefully London can show the rest of the world how to develop a low-carbon capital city.”

Sam Bond

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