Govt ignored advice on allowing EVs in bus lanes

In May the government announced a package to try and increase the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand as a way of reducing emissions – a laudable goal but some of the government’s proposed some measures missed the mark. At or at least near the top of the list was the idea to allow for electric cars to use bus lanes and the Northern Busway.

Northern Busway

Enabling electric vehicles to access bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes

Access by electric vehicles to bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes (lanes where a vehicle must have more than a certain number of occupants) will be of value to households and businesses. Access to such lanes will mean electric vehicles will be able to travel more quickly than vehicles otherwise held up in traffic.

At the same time, the changes will also empower road controlling authorities to allow electric vehicles into special vehicle lanes (such as bus lanes) on their local roading networks.

The Government will make changes to the Land Transport Act and Rules to allow electric vehicles to drive in bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes on the State Highway network, which it controls. One example is the Northern Busway in Auckland.

As I said at the time, the idea is madness and defeats the whole purpose of having bus lanes which is to make buses:

  • faster, making them more attractive to use and can also make them time competitive with driving.
  • more efficient, because buses are faster they can run more services can be run for the same cost or alternatively fewer vehicles and drivers may be needed
  • more convenient as if they allow more services to be run it means higher frequencies so less time waiting at bus stops.
  • more reliable as they’re more likely to arrive at stops and the final destination on time.

It’s now been revealed by the Herald that the government ignored advice to at least consult with councils first before announcing the idea and highlighting that at least one council is ruling it out.

Andy Foster of the Wellington City Council said his city had the country’s highest rate of public transport use “by far” and did not foresee it opting for the change.

“Traffic getting in the buses’ way is not conducive to maintaining reliable timetables.”

Foster, who chairs the council’s transport and urban development committee, said he saw “no chance” that electric vehicles would be allowed to use the city’s bus-only lanes.

“Bus lanes are generally very well respected by motorists. If some vehicles start using bus lanes because they are [electric] there is a greater risk that others which are not [electric] will do so too.”

They also say Auckland Transport and the Christchurch City Council seem cool on the idea although the NZTA say they have begun initial discussions with Auckland Transport to investigate the potential of permitting electric vehicles on the Northern Busway

Back when this policy was announced I sent an Official Information Act request to the Ministry asking for details relating to the idea. I received back some excepts from a report looking at options for promoting EVs but it had been sitting in my inbox for a while. It includes the suggestion that the Minister consult councils on the idea first as well as a few other interesting comments. For example, not only did they recommend talking to road controlling authorities (RCAs) first, they say the NZTA expects none of the major RCAs would implement it.

EVs in Bus Lanes OIA - Considerations

I find the point that the NZTA highlighted that such and idea was unlikely to work as the RCAs wouldn’t want to implement it as much more damning than the fact he didn’t consult with them

They expand a bit on the efficiency impact portion below highlighting that it will likely impact PT and general traffic congestion. Even more so bottom paragraph below confirms the bus lanes will be full soon but that people will still want to drive in them.

EVs in Bus Lanes OIA - 1

As a way of implementing the idea, it was suggested to either use legislation to declare EVs as allowed in all bus or transit lanes or give RCA’s the power to decide on what lanes to allow EVs to use. Thankfully the Minister at least chose the second option but given the responses above, it seems unlikely to they’ll approve having EVs in bus lanes. That raises the prospect despite the government suggesting it, it won’t actually be possible anywhere. That in turns means the whole point of the policy would be a flop and will have wasted precious resource from the ministry. I wonder if the government will quietly drop it.

Of course if they really want to get more use out of bus lanes one idea would be to provide more funding to put more buses on which would have the added benefit of making PT much more useful.

Electric Vehicles by the numbers

Last week the government announced a package of options to try and boost the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand including the extremely idiotic move of allowing electric vehicles in bus lanes – something that even seems to have surprised our transport agencies. As part of the announcement they also set a target for how many electric vehicles they want to see in country.

A target of doubling the number of electric vehicles in New Zealand every year to reach approximately 64,000 by 2021

With this post I thought I’d look the numbers to see how we’re performing. The good news in this regard is that the Ministry has quite a bit of data publicly available to use. This is how the MoT classify an electric vehicle:

They can be powered in two ways:

  1. solely by electric batteries. These are commonly known as pure electric vehicles; or
  2. a combination of electric batteries and a petrol or diesel engine. These are commonly known as plug-in hybrid electric vehicles

Hybrid vehicles that use a combination of a petrol or diesel engine, a battery or an onboard electric motor are not included in this definition of electric vehicles because their batteries cannot be charged from an external electricity source.

So where are we now. The data from the Ministry shows that as of April there were just over 1,220 electric vehicles registered in the country and growth has been fairly strong on an annual basis there has often been over 100% growth compared to the same time the previous year. This has been coming off a low base though. The 1,220 electric vehicles are made up of 659 full electric vehicles and 561 Plug-in Hybrids.

If we are to meet the government’s target, growth levels will need to remain at an exponential level for five years. This is shown below with us meeting the 64k target by the end of 2021.

EVs vs Govt Target

To put things in a little perspective, as of the March quarter there are over 3.5 million light vehicles in the country so electric’s only make up a tiny 0.03%. Even if the total fleet size didn’t growth for the five years of the 64k government target, electrics would still account for fewer than 2% of all light vehicles. In reality growth in the total fleet will mean that even if achieved, electrics will make up a tiny percent.

Next let’s take a look at the number of registrations that are actually occurring. The good news on this front is you can see there has definitely been growth and April was the biggest month yet with just under 100 vehicles registered with used full electric (Nissan Leaf’s I believe) the largest segment.

EV Registrations

But again while the growth is heading in the right direction, they represent only a tiny fraction of all vehicle registrations with the data showing that over the last year an average of over 23k light vehicles are being registered each month. While still small the good news is that the share of electric vehicles being registered and in March reached a high of 0.3% and was then passed 0.4% in April. To be on track for the government’s target the numbers registered for each month to this December will need to surpass the April results.

Trying to predict forward just what percentage of vehicles will need to be electric in 2021 is a little difficult though because as the graph below shows, unsurprisingly the car market appears to be linked closely to economic cycles- although I haven’t bothered to look at that issue more closely. Should the total number of light vehicles sold in 2021 remain at the level it’s out now, the 32,000 electric vehicles that would need t be sold in 2021 to meet the target would account for about 11% of all registrations.

Total light Registrations

When it comes to where electric vehicles are located it’s no surprise they’re where our largest cities are. The MoT list the regions where the vehicles were registered and also by where they were last inspected which they say is the best guide for where they’re located. Auckland tops the list with over 630 (52%) EV’s.

EVs by region

Lastly a there is also information about what make and model these EV’s are. Of the over 1,200, 73% are one of two models. The Nissan Leaf is the most popular with 487 vehicles while the Mitsubishi Outland PHEV is second at 400 units registered.

Getting a greater range of EV’s and having them in a price range more people are prepared to pay (as much as we may want a Tesla), will be critical to improving the uptake of them.

Do you think we can meet the government’s targets?

Government Neuter Bus Lanes

The government want to increase the currently dismal uptake of electric vehicles, increasing the numbers on our roads from about 1,200 to 64,000 in just 5 years. To do that yesterday they announced a package to encourage more people to buy an electric car. Most of the initiatives, such as extending the Road User Charges exemption on light vehicles and introducing an exception for heavy vehicles, are probably fine but one of the initiatives is completely nuts – letting electric vehicles us bus lanes and busways.

Northern Busway

Enabling electric vehicles to access bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes

Access by electric vehicles to bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes (lanes where a vehicle must have more than a certain number of occupants) will be of value to households and businesses. Access to such lanes will mean electric vehicles will be able to travel more quickly than vehicles otherwise held up in traffic.

At the same time, the changes will also empower road controlling authorities to allow electric vehicles into special vehicle lanes (such as bus lanes) on their local roading networks.

The Government will make changes to the Land Transport Act and Rules to allow electric vehicles to drive in bus and high occupancy vehicle lanes on the State Highway network, which it controls. One example is the Northern Busway in Auckland.

This is madness. The whole point of busways, bus lanes and to a lesser extend transit lanes is to make buses, which are much more spatially efficient, more viable and work better. They can make buses:

  • faster, making them more attractive to use and can also make them time competitive with driving.
  • more efficient, because buses are faster they can run more services can be run for the same cost or alternatively fewer vehicles and drivers may be needed
  • more convenient as if they allow more services to be run it means higher frequencies so less time waiting at bus stops.
  • more reliable as they’re more likely to arrive at stops and the final destination on time.

The introduction of bus lanes meant that far more people have been able to be moved along many key corridors than they would have otherwise. For example, the Northern Busway carries about 40% of all traffic crossing the Harbour Bridge during the morning peak – five lanes of traffic and 40% of the people are in fewer than 200 vehicles. On other corridors like Dominion Rd more than 50% of people are on the bus yet in both situations the lanes can look empty. But a bus lane that looks empty normally means it’s actually doing its job and allowing buses to flow, uninterrupted by congestion.

Adding electric vehicles to this, which will mostly be carrying only a single occupant, will undo some of the benefits and make buses less efficient. That’s because there’s a greater chance that buses will be held up or miss lights etc. It means a double decker carrying 100 people have the same level of priority as a single person in an electric car. And this isn’t just theoretical, back in 2010 the old Auckland City Council trialled changing the then Tamaki Dr bus lanes to T2. As the results of that showed, it actually had the effect of slowing other road users, especially the general traffic. One of the reasons for this is the T2/3 drivers would push back in to the general traffic queue to get around buses at bus stops..




I believe the same situation would apply to electric vehicles allowed in bus lanes.

At this point its worth noting that when the Northern Busway was first designed and approved it was it was done so with the idea that high occupancy vehicles (HOV) could potentially also be allowed to use it. This was because at the time they were worried not enough people would catch a bus and is why for example that there’s a blocked off access at the Constellation Station. Of course as we know not a single HOV has used the busway because it’s performed above expectations.

There are other reasons this is a bad idea too. This includes:

  • Bus lanes are also often considered cycle lanes too. Allowing electric vehicles into those lanes could increase the risk for people on bikes. We also know from the recent Grafton Bridge trial (that has now ended) that many drivers simply don’t follow the rules. This would be no different with electric cars.
  • Getting single occupant vehicles back out of bus lanes in the future will be difficult. It’s also worth noting that other parts of the announcement had sunset clauses on them of either time or a once a percentage vehicles went electric. There was nothing mentioned for access to bus lanes.
  • Enforcement will be much harder as it is difficult to tell which vehicles are electric and which ones aren’t. In addition, many drivers seem to exhibit a bit of a herd mentality and if they see a couple of drivers getting an advantage they’ll start to copy. This would exacerbate the issues of cars in bus lanes.
  • Currently electric vehicles are more expensive than their fossil fuelled counterparts and the biggest buyers of them seem to businesses for fleet cars. It means the benefit of driving in bus lanes will likely be exclusive to a small(ish) group of early adopters.


Perhaps to help address this issue, Auckland Transport now more than ever need to fast-track the conversion of key bus routes to Light Rail. Perhaps they should also consider building it where they can with a grassed track.

Light Rail grassed track

In seriousness, a key reason for looking at light rail on the isthmus is about trying to relieve bus congestion on some corridors. Allowing electric vehicles to this mix will likely only mean Light Rail will have to happen sooner.

Overall this is a terrible idea, unless of course you drive an electric car already or are planning on getting one. The busway is owned by the NZTA but most of the other bus lanes let’s hope that Auckland Transport are able to say no to his idea on local roads at least. If they can’t then the government have managed to neuter bus lanes and possibly set them back years.

Will people choose to buy new vehicle technologies?

Last year we started to take a look at an emerging technology that some claim will revolutionise urban transport – driverless cars. My view is that they aren’t all they’re cracked up to be – if we wanted to, we could easily get the purported benefits by investing in existing, proven technology:

While driverless cars (or hoverboards for that matter) sound exciting, we can’t afford to pin all of our hopes on them. The pragmatic, proven way forward for transport in a big city is the same as it’s always been: Give people good transport choices by investing in efficient rapid transit networks, frequent bus services, and safe walking and cycling options.

If we want a safer, more efficient, and more environmentally friendly transport system, we can achieve it now by making smart policy changes. We don’t have to wait.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say that we did want to wait for driverless cars to solve our self-imposed problems. How long would it take, exactly?

The wait would be a function of three factors:

  • First, how long it takes until driverless cars are proven and widely available for purchase in New Zealand. Most people agree that the technology is improving and may be ready for wide deployment sometime in the next decade. (Obviously, regulatory barriers could slow uptake as well.)
  • Second, how long it will take the New Zealand vehicle fleet to turn over – i.e. how long until the cars that’s currently on the road is scrapped and replaced. At the moment, the average NZ vehicle is around 13 years old, meaning that we’d expect it to take at least 13 years for half of the fleet to be renewed. Full replacement of every car on the road could take 25-40 years – a quick glimpse at Trademe shows that people are still buying and selling cars built in the early 1980s.
  • Third, and possibly most importantly, how rapidly driverless cars gain market share. Even after the introduction of driverless cars, most people will continue buying self-drive cars, which will dramatically slow the transition to a driverless fleet.

People have spent a lot of time thinking about the first two points, but I haven’t seen any commentary on the third one. Fortunately, we can draw upon some real-world data to get a sense of how rapidly consumers take up new vehicle technologies. Over the last decade, hybrid and electric cars have become commonly available, with cumulative global sales figures in the millions. While they tend to be more expensive to purchase, they offer savings on fuel costs and improvements in environmental performance.

So: How have consumers responded to recent technological transformations?

In short, they have hardly noticed. People are not rushing to give up their petrol (and self-driving) vehicles, even though there are now viable alternatives. A recent study from the US has found that hybrid vehicles’ market share has stayed low, even though car-makers have introduced many more new models. Over a decade after the Toyota Prius first arrived on the market, hybrids account for only one in every thirty new car sales in the US:


Source: IHS/Polk

Obviously, uptake of hybrid and electric vehicles has been faster in some places than others. However, a 2013 New York Times article on new vehicle technologies found that alternative vehicles have failed to capture a majority of the market even in the most favourable environments:

SANTA MONICA, Calif. — It would seem to be a good time to own an electric car in Santa Monica. From the charging stations dotted around town to the dedicated public parking spaces — all provided at no cost by the city — Santa Monica has rolled out the welcome mat for electric cars.

But even here, in this wealthy, environmentally conscious city of 90,000 west of Los Angeles, only a core group of owners has switched from traditional gasoline-powered cars.

Less than 4 percent of registered cars run only on battery power, according to an analysis by the industry researcher of data from R.L. Polk, which records vehicle registrations nationwide. Hybrids, which run on some combination of gasoline and battery power, account for 15.5 percent, the data says, but many of those are traditional hybrids, which do not require a plug-in cord for recharging.

In other words, after a decade, over 80% of Santa Monica’s car fleet is still composed of conventional petrol cars. And that’s about as good as it gets anywhere in the US, which is on the leading edge of many new trends in vehicle technologies.

The picture isn’t much different outside of the US. Research on vehicle fleets in 19 countries shows that there are only two countries where hybrids and electric vehicles account for more than 1% of vehicle fleets. Norway (largely electric cars) and the Netherlands (mostly hybrids) were far and away the leaders in uptake, due to extraordinarily generous subsidies for buyers. Everywhere else lagged far behind:

In short, people don’t seem to be rushing out to buy new vehicle technologies. Although we all have the option to buy electric now, few people do in practice. It is very likely that driverless cars, when or if they become readily available, will follow a similar pattern. Initially, at least, they will be costlier and seem riskier than self-drive cars. Current rates of uptake for hybrid and electric cars suggest that it could take half a century or more for petrol cars to vanish from the road. Why should the transition to driverless cars be any faster?

All in all, recent market realities should encourage caution about driverless cars. Slow rates of uptake for new vehicle technologies mean that they aren’t going to solve our problems any time soon. A 2014 London School of Economics report on the state of urban mobility (pdf) described the dilemma of vehicle technology innovation well. They noted:

Regarding the development of new transport technologies, key actors (above all the automotive sector) have failed to convert technological progress into substantive improvements in energy efficiency and vehicle emissions or more broadly transform modes of accessibility in cities.

The clear implication is that if we want better transport outcomes, we must implement better transport policies. The data shows that waiting on new technologies is not a sensible option. If we want to lower the road toll, we must invest in safe roads, including protected cycle infrastructure. If we want a workable solution to congestion, we must build rapid transit infrastructure, bus lanes and walking and cycling improvements to give people the choice to avoid it.

There is no realistic alternative – so why don’t we get on with it?

The electric car revolution….

Electric cars are often touted as the next big thing in transport, removing one of the major effects of vehicle use – emissions. This is especially the case in NZ where we have such a large amount of our electricity generated from renewable sources. But while electric cars might solve one problem, they certainly aren’t a silver bullet to all issues as so wonderfully pointed out in this image from Copehagenize.

Electric vehicles (part 4)

It’s been a while since the last post in this series on electric vehicles (here are parts one, two and three), but this post is number four. Today, I’m looking at the costs of these cars – both their running costs, and their capital costs. Again, I’ll abbreviate plug-in hybrid electric vehicles to PHEVs, and battery electric vehicles to BEVs – these are the “full” electric vehicles which don’t have an engine for backup.

This post is about the cost of electric vehicles – the main reason they’ve been so slow to take off. These cars are much more expensive than conventional cars, unless there are hefty subsidies involved.


Capital (“Up Front”) Costs

The high capital cost of EVs is driven in large part by the batteries. The latest generation of vehicles use lithium-ion batteries, which are much better at storing energy than the traditional lead-acid batteries you’ll find in your Corolla. They’re also much more expensive, although the price is falling and will continue to do so. The graph below shows some scenarios for price decline:

BEV battery cost forecasts

Battery costs are usually measured in terms of a cost per kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy storage; a PHEV might have a battery with 8 kWh, and a BEV might have 30 or 40 kWh. When I was writing my thesis a couple of years ago, costs of up to USD $1,000/kWh were being floated around, although there was and continues to be a wide range of different opinions. Adding to the uncertainty, early EVs will have been sold below cost, or at least at less-than-economic returns to the manufacturer, as they started to develop the technology. It seems to be generally agreed that battery costs are now less than USD $500 per kWh, although manufacturers would obviously want to make a profit on those costs at some point, and there are taxes and other considerations as well.

So, what kind of price difference would that mean for a new PHEV or BEV in New Zealand? Let’s say that the car manufacturers are happy with a battery selling price of USD $500 per kWh, around $570 in NZ dollars. Adding GST onto that brings the figure to around $650. Therefore, an 8 kWh PHEV battery could cost $5,200, and a 33 kWh BEV battery might be around $21,450 – still not cheap by any measure. Things get a little less straightforward when you consider that the PHEV will cost a little more due to having both an electric motor and an engine, and the BEV will cost a bit less since its electric motor is quite a bit cheaper than the typical engine.


Running Costs

As discussed in part two, electric motors use a lot less energy than a traditional car engine. This means lower running costs. But how much lower? From my earlier posts, a vehicle running on electricity could use around 20 kWh to travel 100 km. To see how much that costs, simply look at your power bill. Across New Zealand, households pay an average of 28 cents per kWh, according to the MBIE. The “marginal” cost you’ll pay for an extra unit of electricity, though, will be a bit lower. I’ll use a figure of 22 cents per kWh.

This gives a cost of $5 per 100 km – certainly much cheaper than a typical petrol car, which uses 10 litres of petrol to travel 100 km, costing around $22.00 at current petrol prices.

However, a big chunk of the petrol price is tax, comprising a contribution to the National Land Transport Fund, and a bit to ACC as well. According to the MBIE, that’s around 77 cents per litre once GST is added on, or $7.70 per 100 km. Since EVs also contribute to road wear and tear (and demand for new investment), and to accidents, they should also be paying something for this. We obviously can’t tax them through petrol, and it’d be pretty hard to do it through electricity prices as well, so the logical way to do it is through Road User Charges. Indeed, EVs would normally be subject to these, but they’ve received an exemption for the time being (to encourage their uptake). Perhaps that’s a sensible move, but it’s probably not something we’d still want to do in 20 years time when a growing number of cars are electric, and drivers of old cars will need to pick up the slack and pay more tax.

As I’ve written previously, the long-term solution may be to make Road User Charges universal, although there are issues with this as well. For now, I’ll just note that EVs might either be exempt from Road User Charges (i.e. not directly contributing to the upkeep of the transport network and accident costs), or they might end up paying the full charge. This would more than double the running costs of BEVs, although they’ll still be cheaper than petrol cars.

Sitting awkwardly in the middle of all this are PHEVs. At the moment, they get a somewhat inconsistent treatment. Petrol-electric hybrids, for the time being, pay tax through their petrol consumption. In my thesis, I assumed they average 3 litres of petrol per 100 km, although this will vary substantially. Drivers who only do short trips could end up using the electric motor for nearly all their driving. Regardless of the actual figure, they may end up paying very little tax.

Diesel-electric hybrids, on the other hand, have to pay Road User Charges, so they end up paying the full whammy of costs (once the RUC-petrol tax discrepancy gets resolved in the next few years). That’s a real disincentive from buying diesel-electric PHEVs, so we’d expect them to be much less popular here.

The graph below compares the lifetime running costs of several kinds of car, under several taxation scenarios. As you can see, RUCs or the lack of them make a big difference. The Excel file is here if you want to play around with it.

Lifetime opex


Getting the costs to stack up

Setting aside environmental concerns, “range anxiety”, and all the rest, consumers will be prepared to pay the higher capital cost of electric cars, if they’re going to save enough money on their running costs. In the graph here, for a car travelling 12,000 km a year for 25 years (perhaps a bit on the high side), and using an 8% discount rate, you’ll pay nearly $30,000 in running costs for a petrol car, compared with $7,000 for a BEV which is exempt from Road User Charges forever.

That’s a $23,000 difference, for quite an extreme case. For some of the other BEV/ PHEV combinations, the difference is $10,000 to $15,000. The difference would get smaller with a higher discount rate, or with less travel.

Overall, if you compare these running cost savings to the extra capital cost, it looks like the financial argument for BEVs and PHEVs isn’t quite there yet.


Wrapping Up

Battery costs will continue to decline, driven by economies of scale (i.e. production scaling up) and technological advances. It’s hard to predict how fast costs will come down, or by how much. Someone might invent a transformational new battery chemistry (rather than lithium-ion), or we might simply see incremental advances.

There are ways of reducing this issue: for example, customers could lease electric vehicles, or buy the vehicles but only lease the batteries. This kind of scheme could allow the buyer to avoid the high up-front cost, which could be recouped over time through the running cost savings. Electricity providers would find this a straightforward extension to their business, and I believe a number of companies in New Zealand would look at running these schemes.

At current price levels, BEVs have running costs that are only marginally lower than petrol-electric PHEVs, because these hybrids are only taxed on their petrol consumption. Furthermore, even though diesel-electric PHEVs will be more efficient than petrol-electric PHEVs, they are likely to have higher running costs.

BEVs currently have an exemption from Road User Charges, to encourage their uptake over the next few years, but there’s no reason why this should be the case in the long term – they use the road network, and should pay their share.

Since the costs associated with the road network are primarily dependent on the weight and number of vehicles using the road – and not on the litres of fuel used – the Road User Charges scheme arguably provides a more equitable way of charging for road use.

Electric Buses

Buses are often the quiet workhorse of many PT systems running all sorts of routes from high capacity busway systems down to local services that connect suburbs to shops or train stations. Yet for many, buses have anything but a quiet image, add in emissions and they are often thought of as noisy and smelly beasts. Modern buses with have managed to address most of these issues – or at least significantly reduce them however the negative perception remains.

In Auckland around 77% of all PT trips are made by bus and in the city centre about 32% of all people arriving in the CBD in morning peak are riding on one (trains are about 8%, cars 46%). As Jarrett Walker says, buses are like pedestrian fountains throwing people out into the city. We’ve talked many times before how the new bus network is a giant leap in the right direction for many reasons, one of which is that it uses buses much more efficiently. Despite this there will still need to be a lot of services travelling through the CBD as shown in the image below.

RPTP CBD network

The two concentrations of frequent east-west routes definitely look like they will need some bus serious priority to ensure they don’t all clog each other up, especially once less frequent and peak only services are added in. The image below is an example of what we need to avoid from Sydney. Future bus congestion is also a key reason why the CRL is so important as it allows more buses to act as feeders rather than having to trundle into town when that space could be better used for a bus from an area not served by the rain network.

Yet while it appears we are going to need some busways through the CBD, I’m also aware that the negative perceptions about buses mentioned above will continue to be raised. I’ve even heard it suggested by some that we ban buses from the inner core of the CBD with them only allowed around the edge i.e. Mayoral Dr. This would not only disadvantage bus passengers (probably putting many off) but would also likely disadvantage many retailers due to reduced pedestrian flows past their premises. These sorts of ideas aren’t just unique to the CBD though and seem to pop up from time to time in other places too.

I can’t help but wonder if perhaps the best solution is instead of pushing for buses to be removed from certain streets that those complaining instead push for the quality of buses to improve further benefiting everyone. What’s interesting is there appears to be quite a bit of innovation in buses going on at the moment, especially in electric buses that don’t substantial infrastructure like trolley wires. Below are three different trials in different cities of electric buses each using slightly different technology.

The first is from the UK where in the town of Milton Keynes where inductive charging is being used to keep the buses topped up during the day.

The fleet will run on the Number 7 route, which covers 25km (15 miles) between the Milton Keynes suburbs of Wolverton and Bletchley and carries an estimated 800,000 passengers a year.

After a night charging at the depot, the buses will receive booster charges throughout the day at the start and end of the route.

There, the bus parks over plates buried in the road. The driver then lowers receiver plates on the bottom of the bus to within 4cm of the road surface and the bus is charged for around 10 minutes before resuming service.

The system uses a process called inductive charging. Electricity passes through wire coils in the road plates, generating a magnetic field. This field induces a voltage across coils in the bus plates and the vehicle’s batteries are charged.

From memory this technology was first developed at Auckland Uni. Doing a 25km route all day also seems pretty impressive and assuming the bus is on time then a 10 minute charge at each end would simply be taking place while the bus was between runs so there is likely to be no passenger impact.

The second example comes from Zurich where a trial is under way using buses with batteries that can be topped up with flash charging in 15 seconds.

The system is designed to allow for quickly “topping off” batteries at , with a longer charge of just three to four minutes between bus runs. Buses are equipped with a laser controlled arm that sits atop the bus and automatically guides the contact mechanism to its mate in an overhanging . Passengers get on and off the bus just as they would any other bus.

The system was designed by  based electronics giant ABB with assistance from Geneva  and other city agencies. The TOSA system flash charges at a rate of 400 kW, allowing batteries to be topped off in just 15 seconds every few stops. Officials describing the system call it a truly zero- system because the electricity to recharge the buses is generated using hydroelectricity. They noted also that such a bus system would be a big improvement over conventional electric buses that get their power from overhead lines and also other battery run buses that must be taken out of service periodically for recharging. They claim also that despite such frequent recharging, the batteries in the buses are expected to last for at least a decade.

And here’s a promo video of it in action

And lastly from New York where a trial has just successfully completed on a battery powered bus from Chinese company BYD which is able to work all day on a single charge – although I guess it would greatly depend on how long the route was.

BYD and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) concluded a pilot test on a BYD 40-foot, zero-emissions, battery-electric bus.
The test period was from August 25 to October 25, totaling two months in service, with the final report data now summarized for distribution.

“The general purpose of the program was to evaluate how an electric bus could perform in New York City’s heavy traffic, whether the electric bus can meet the twin challenges of operating in the stop-and-go traffic of Manhattan while maintaining high levels of passenger comfort and operational performance,” said MTA’s spokesman Kevin Ortiz.

The bus tested at MTA was supplied by BYD Motors and offers a range of 140-155 miles average between charges. Charging is intended to only be completed at night during off peak hours to reduce unwanted demand on the grid, and takes only three to four hours to return to full capacity.

The testing was carried out on different routes throughout Manhattan, covering a total distance during the trial of 1,481 miles.

The BYD all-electric bus “performed excellent” covering more than 140 miles per full charge in heavy traffic, according to company officials.

There are probably other systems out there but that there does seem to be so many different options coming though does suggest trolley wire free electric buses are likely to play a big part in the future. We will probably have to wait to see which system ultimately ends up best but it’s definitely something we as a city should be thinking about.

So once again, perhaps instead of pushing for buses to be removed from certain areas due to noise and emissions that people should instead focus on how we can make them better. Over the medium term electric buses are likely to be much more successful in replacing the existing bus fleet than electric cars would be.

Electric vehicles (part 3)

So, electric vehicles (EVs) were looking pretty good in part 2. They’re much more energy efficient than regular cars, at least on a “tank-to-wheels” basis. Today, I’ll talk about their greenhouse gas emissions, starting with a quote from my thesis:

Advanced vehicles could make a sizeable contribution to emissions reduction in New Zealand. BEVs generate zero tank-to-wheels greenhouse gas emissions, and PHEVs only produce emissions when using their internal combustion engines. However, the well-to-wheels emissions for advanced vehicles depend on the source of electricity used to charge the vehicle. These sources, of course, vary substantially between countries, with many countries generating the bulk of their electricity from coal or oil. In fact, for countries such as the US, UK, China and Australia, Matthew-Wilson (2010) estimates that the Tesla Roadster BEV would actually produce higher well-to-wheels CO2 emissions than the conventional Lotus Elise on which it is based. Doucette and McCulloch (2011) and de Sisternes (2010) reach similar conclusions.

As such, the potential for PHEVs and BEVs to reduce greenhouse gas emissions depends on low-emissions sources of electricity. For much of the world, a shift towards these electricity sources will be needed if advanced vehicles are to play any part in reducing emissions. The difficulties in doing so would be one reason for The Boston Consulting Group’s (2009, p. 2) argument that conventional vehicle “technologies will be the most cost-effective way to reduce CO2 emissions on a broad scale”.

I want to highlight the end of that first paragraph. For many of the world’s largest economies, EVs wouldn’t actually reduce emissions at all, based on the current mix of power generation. Indeed, they could even increase emissions – in which case, what’s the point? True, they could help with energy security and wean countries off expensive oil imports (things I’ll look at in future posts), but there’s a lot of cost involved in buying into the technology, installing infrastructure and so on.

In order for EVs to reduce emissions, there will have to be a major shift in the way the world generates power. And, while renewable generation is growing, it still makes up a tiny fraction of the world’s electricity supply.

The New Zealand Situation

Back to New Zealand, where things look a bit better:

Of course, New Zealand is in a much more favourable position, with a large renewable electricity base. The New Zealand Government (2007, p. 22) points out that our “energy resources are plentiful and cheap by world standards… it is easier for New Zealand to commit to a low emissions electricity system than almost any other country”. As shown below, we can reduce our emissions significantly by transitioning to advanced vehicles. Matthew-Wilson (2010) estimates that in New Zealand, a Tesla Roadster would create less than one-third the CO2-equivalent emissions of a Lotus Elise.

 I made my own calculations as well, and found that:

 “A BEV using 20 kWh of electricity per 100 km of travel would produce emissions of 3.9 kg of CO2-equivalent emissions over this distance, a well-to-wheels measure. This is around 17% of the level of emissions produced by a typical petrol car, illustrating the potential for major emissions savings”.

Indeed, if New Zealand transitions to having more renewable electricity (we’re currently a little over 70% renewable, with aspirational targets of 90% by 2025), those emissions will drop even further. Emissions could become essentially negligible for electric cars, or trains or buses for that matter.

EV emissions – great for NZ, not for most other countries

Yes, electric cars could make a big difference to New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions. However, that’s not the case for most countries. We’ve got plenty of renewable electricity, but most countries don’t, and that means their power plants have much higher emissions. This means that most countries have a lot less to gain from implementing EVs.

This is a major issue, because New Zealand is a tiny market in the scheme of things. The availability and price-competitiveness of electric cars will be determined by much larger markets – where the case for switching to advanced vehicles is much weaker. As such, prices will not fall as quickly as they would if all countries had low-emissions electricity systems, and there might not be as many different models and variants available. This will slow the uptake of PHEVs and BEVs in New Zealand as well.

So, it’s been clearly established that EVs can reduce emissions in New Zealand at least. There are still some questions around whether they are the most cost-effective way of reducing emissions, and whether our power grid can handle them – and those things will need to wait for another day.

Electric vehicles (part 2)

In part 1 of this series, I introduced the two main types of electric vehicles: plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs), and battery electric vehicles (BEVs). Today, I want to talk about their energy efficiency.

Electric motors – such as those used in a PHEV or BEV – are around three times more efficient than internal combustion engines. However, this is only part of the picture. The production, transportation, conversion and consumption of “useful” energy tends to involve losses at each stage of the process. A vehicle may appear to be more, or less, efficient than another depending on how many stages are taken into account.

“Useful” energy is lost in several of the processes involved in charging and powering an electric vehicle. There are losses in the generation, transmission and distribution of electricity to the charging point. The generation losses can be substantial, (especially for geothermal plants), and the transmission and distribution involves a loss of around 7%.

You pay for these losses, indirectly, in your retail electricity prices. But let’s put them to one side, since they’re being costed anyway, and their emissions are negligible, which is ultimately where I’m heading with this.

For EVs, additional losses arise from the conversion of electricity into stored energy in the battery (charging the battery), and the conversion of that stored energy back into electricity to drive the motor (and move the car).

Similarly, for conventional vehicles, useful energy is lost in extracting, transporting and refining oil; large amounts of energy are lost within the engine as heat or friction, and so on. The overall efficiency of this process is referred to as “well-to-wheels” efficiency – an energy life cycle going all the way from the oil well through to the wheels of your car.




Although the process for EVs is substantially different and may not involve oil wells at all, the overall efficiency of generating electricity through to driving the car is also called “well-to-wheels” efficiency. Similarly, “tank-to-wheels” efficiency refers to just the latter stages of the process, from the fuel tank onwards for conventional vehicles, or the battery onwards for EVs. I’ll focus on this from now on.

On average, petrol cars in New Zealand consume around 10 litres of petrol for every 100 km they travel, a “tank-to-wheels” measure of their energy use. Given the energy content of petrol at around 35 megajoules per litre (MED, 2011a), these cars use 350 megajoules per 100 km.

On the other hand, a BEV might have a “tank-to-wheels” electrical efficiency of 20 kWh/ 100 km (or just 72 megajoules per 100 km). Certainly, you could be looking at an EV using 70% or 80% less energy than a typical car on this basis.

Anyway, this has been a fairly lengthy look at the energy efficiency of various types of cars – sorry about that! However, energy efficiency isn’t that important in itself. Where it becomes important is when you look at its implications for running costs, or energy security, or greenhouse gas emissions. I’ll look at those topics in future posts.

Electric vehicles (part 1)

Almost all of the cars New Zealanders drive today are “conventional” vehicles, which use internal combustion engines and run only on liquid or gaseous fuels – mainly petrol or diesel, although a tiny number use other fuels such as compressed natural gas or biofuels. In the future – and I’m talking fairly long-term, at least a couple of decades out – we’re likely to see “advanced” and electric vehicles playing a larger role. These vehicles are pretty expensive, and it’s still very early days for the technology, but they could potentially reduce dependence on oil, and – although this is trickier – reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

In this post I’ll just give a quick overview of the technology – I’ll leave discussion of the pros and cons for another day.



Hybrid cars use two different methods of providing forward motion: an engine, and an electric motor. The engine generates energy, which charges the battery – same as a regular car up to this point – and the battery is then used to run the motor.

There are a number of “hybrid” cars on the road today, and they are some of the most efficient cars currently available. Generally, these hybrids run entirely on petrol or diesel. As such, they can be simply thought of as particularly efficient conventional vehicles, rather than advanced ones.

Hybrids can improve fuel efficiency by more than 40%, compared to similarly sized, non-hybridised cars. That’s a fairly substantial saving. However, hybrid cars cost more to build: the International Energy Agency estimates that, even without considering development costs, hybrids currently cost around USD $2,450 more to build than comparable petrol cars.

The Toyota Prius is the world’s top-selling hybrid, and probably the most famous. There are plenty of these in New Zealand, many of them being driven as taxis (they seem to be the main car in the Co-Op Taxis fleet, for example). The higher up-front cost and lower running costs make hybrids very suitable for taxis, which tend to do high mileage.


“Advanced” vehicles: PHEVs and BEVs

Plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, or PHEVs, take the hybrid idea a step further. They still have an internal combustion engine and can be refuelled at petrol stations – but they also have a battery which can be recharged from the grid. Just plug ’em in.

2011 Chevrolet Volt

The Chevrolet Volt – one of the first PHEVs to make it to market. They call it an “extended range electric vehicle”, but let’s not worry about the terminology too much


Battery electric vehicles, or BEVs, ditch the engine altogether, and only run on electricity: no petrol or diesel involved.


The Nissan Leaf – one of the first BEVs to make it to market. “Zero Emission” from the car itself, although of course there will be greenhouse gas emissions from the electricity used to power it

From my thesis, available here:

In recent years, automakers have begun to focus more attention on PHEVs and BEVs… The distinctive feature of such vehicles is their ability to drive using electricity from the grid. Both PHEVs and BEVs incorporate a larger battery than those in traditional hybrids, and use this to power an electric motor. BEVs are entirely reliant on this motor, whereas PHEVs also include an internal combustion engine and can run on conventional fuels.

PHEVs and BEVs are significantly more efficient than conventional petrol or diesel vehicles, and have lower running costs as a result… PHEVs have smaller batteries than BEVs, and a limited electric-only range which may still be sufficient for the daily travel needs of many drivers. For longer trips, PHEVs will use their engine, giving them a comparable range to other cars.

By “range”, I mean the distance you can drive before you need to refuel or recharge the car. Essentially, the only real disadvantage of PHEVs (compared with conventional vehicles) is that they cost a lot to buy. For BEVs, there’s the high cost, plus the inability to take a long road trip without recharging or switching out the battery. Auckland to Hamilton might be possible, but much longer than that would be a stretch.

Plug-in hybrids have lower running costs than conventional cars – they use less petrol, and the electricity is pretty cheap too – and BEVs have even lower running costs.

Hydrogen cars are another type of advanced vehicle, discussed here, but I’ll be focussing on the PHEVs and BEVs from here on in.