On the road to eco-friendly public transport

On the road to eco-friendly public transport

Mercedes-Benz has a legacy of producing eco-friendly public transport. Some of these solutions are also making their way to South African roads. We speak to Shane Henry, head of Bus & Coach at Mercedes-Benz South Africa, to find out more.

With the pressing global need to reduce greenhouse gas and other toxic emissions, all sectors of industry are seeking new solutions in order to move forward. New technologies are being explored, boundaries are being pushed and gains are being made.

One company that makes it a priority to explore new technology, push boundaries, make gains in efficiency and reduce emissions is Mercedes-Benz. This is not only happening internationally, either _ Mercedes-Benz South Africa is taking the lead in the introduction of eco-friendly products in all spheres of its business, with the notable inclusion of public transport.

Mercedes-Benz, itself, has been promoting alternative-drive technology in public transport since the 1950s, when the O6600 T trolleybus (an electric bus that draws power from overhead wires), based on the O6600 H diesel bus, was created. In 1969, the company introduced its first fully electric bus, and, in 1971, a natural-gas-fuelled version débuted.

Hydrogen, electric hybrids, methanol, compressed natural gas (CNG) and fuel cells (which convert the chemical energy from a fuel, such as hydrogen, into electricity) all ensued in the following years.

Today, its international alternate-drive public transport portfolio consists of CNG and dual-fuel (both offered locally), and hybrid fuel cells (also offered overseas).

“The main benefits of these alternative-fuel technologies is that they are less harmful to the environment, while noise pollution is also reduced as the engines are quieter in operation,” Henry explains. “The tail-pipe emissions are lower than Euro-5 or Euro-6 engines with better fuel consumption.”

The Euro-6 standard is currently in force in Europe, and is the most stringent yet. To provide some context, Euro 6 limits a new diesel engine’s emissions to 0,08 g/km of CO2 and 0,005 g/km of particulate matter _ respectively 97 and 95 percent less than the Euro-1 standard of 1992.

Henry adds that the maintenance requirements of these vehicles are also reduced thanks to the modern, cutting-edge technology, which reduces waste and makes them even more eco-friendly.

The benefits of public transport vehicles powered by alternative fuels are numerous; including reduced impact on the environment by way of better fuel consumption and fewer maintenance requirements.These benefits, says Henry, are increasingly being noticed by local public transport operators and municipalities alike.

“Large corporates are investigating the use of low-emission vehicles, including those using alternative fuels. Municipalities are showing the biggest interest at present, while there are others who are adopting a wait-and-see approach.”

Why the wait-and-see approach, though? The answer lies in South Africa’s current legislation, which lags behind the likes of Europe and the United States of America.

“South Africa’s current legislation requires vehicles to meet only the Euro-2 standard _ which was introduced in 1998. As such, customers are under no obligation to purchase vehicles featuring the latest technology; the implications thereof are obvious,” says Henry.

He explains: “Supporting infrastructure, and the subsequent availability and accessibility of low-sulphur 10 and 50 parts per million (ppm) diesel, is required for advanced diesel-fuelled vehicles. Mercedes-Benz South Africa continually lobbies for the widespread availability of these cleaner fuels, which will enable the introduction of latest-technology vehicles into South Africa.

“As far as CNG and charging circuits for electric vehicles are concerned, this is based on customer demand and acceptance, or changes in legislation,” notes Henry. “For these fuels to become widely available, customer demand and, of course, the number of products in operation would need to be higher.”

Regarding the numerous alternative-fuelled Mercedes-Benz buses soon to be operating in two major municipalities in Gauteng, these challenges are overcome by the implementation of dedicated routes with special filling stations, or special facilities at the bus depots.

Nonetheless, Mercedes-Benz South Africa is doing its bit to promote the benefits of environmentally friendly vehicles locally, as well as provide information on how its products can be operated in this manner.

Henry elaborates: “Eco-friendly vehicles should never be considered for just the vehicle alone. On the contrary, the right product in the wrong hands will yield the wrong results. Mercedes-Benz South Africa will continue to promote our entire value chain proposition _ in this case with specific focus on our FleetBoard telematics system, which can monitor driver behaviour in real time and pinpoint areas of improvement.

“FleetBoard driver training is the next natural step, ideally using the data collected from FleetBoard telematics to mould the perfect driver.

“Our maintenance product, CharterWay, will ensure that the vehicles operate optimally for as long as possible. Of course, with so many touchpoints, our customers become part of the family!”

Henry continues: “We also promote the use of better quality fuel and work out regular, scheduled fleet renewal programmes. Finally, we encourage our customers to embrace technological advancement and change.”

After all, this is what Mercedes-Benz is all about. “Mercedes-Benz prides itself on offering first-to-market solutions for the past 120 years, and will continue to invest in researching and developing new technologies to support the customer and the environment,” Henry concludes.

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