First ‘virtual electric’ hybrid buses unveiled in Bristol

Two new hybrid electric buses using the latest innovative technology have been launched by bus operator First in Bristol thanks to a £1.4 million grant from the government in recognition of the city’s European Green Capital status.

First Bus launches one of the first hybrid electric buses in Bristol
Photo: Bristol City Council

The legacy of Green Capital doesn’t stop here. This is very much part of our continuing progress – this project is just the tip of the iceberg

Piloting GPS geo-fencing technology, the route 72 buses from the University West of the England (UWE) to the city centre will automatically switch from diesel to electric mode when they enter designated Air Quality Management areas.

Bristol City Council will use the data collected to evaluate the air quality benefits for the city environment along with the operational impacts for the bus service.

How do they work?

GPS technology is used to identify when the bus is entering an Air Quality Management Area and switches the engine off entirely to allow the bus to run in electric mode. The bus driver will not need to do anything.

The buses, which can carry over 80 passengers, are charged in just an hour overnight at First’s bus depot but there is also a top-up induction charging plate at UWE to keep them running in electric mode.

The buses can operate for around 20 minutes in electric mode, but each four-cylinder 4.5-litre engine can charge the batteries when the vehicle’s not in electric mode.

Speaking at the launch at College Green in Bristol on Friday 8 January, George Ferguson, Mayor of Bristol, said:

“The legacy of Green Capital doesn’t stop here. This is very much part of our continuing progress – this project is just the tip of the iceberg. These hybrid electric buses are tangible evidence that Bristol is seen as the UK’s leading environmental city.”

James Freeman, Managing Director of First West of England, added:

“This vehicle can guarantee it can run up a hill like Park Street and across the city in a way that hasn’t been possible. These are called ‘virtual electric’ because actually they are much more sophisticated and by taking part in this experiment we are going to learn a lot about how this technology works and how it can be made part of the mainstream. This is an internationally significant development. They will be iconic vehicles in the city, showing us the sort of thing that can happen.”

The £1.4 million grant from the Department for Transport paid for both electric buses, the charging point at the depot, the induction charger at UWE and the costs of ongoing monitoring and evaluation. The funding was a welcome boost because this innovative technology could not currently be supported commercially by First as the methods are so new and unknown.

First is also spending £13 million on 59 new greener buses across the West of England – all fitted with Euro 6 engines which are 14 times cleaner than those they replace.

In addition, the West of England has been awarded £483,410 by the Government to improve the environmental performance of 35 of the region’s most polluting buses with Selective Catalytic Reduction technology, which reduces nitrogen oxide emissions.

The Department for Transport’s Clean Bus Technology Fund was awarded to Bristol City, Bath and North East Somerset, North Somerset and South Gloucestershire councils which worked in partnership on the bid with three operators: First Bus, ABUS and the Bath Bus Company.



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