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December 3, 2010

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Teething troubles for new super capacitor buses

IT was not the first time that Zhang, the driver of a No. 26 bus, had to explain patiently to a passenger why the bus was taking so much time in front of a green light before moving.

"Calm down, it's a super capacitor bus, so we have to feed it with electricity. Thank you for your understanding," said Zhang.

Zhang and other No. 26 bus drivers were quite excited when they were offered the opportunity to drive the World Expo buses - a fleet of 25 electrically-powered super capacitor buses which enjoy a good reputation for zero-emissions, less noise during operation and offering a more comfortable experience for passengers.

But after the Expo buses replaced the old ones last week, drivers found their work was actually getting tougher. They now have to keep their eyes on the dashboards, because whenever a yellow warning sign flashes, they have to recharge their vehicles. If they fail to do so, the buses will stop dead.

Although charging points have been set up at every stop along the route of the No. 26 bus, it is still not an easy task for drivers to get their vehicles recharged every 5 to 6 kilometers as the stops are often occupied by other cars and buses during rush hour.

On Changle Road, where a kindergarten and a hospital are situated, parents of children and relatives of patients park their vehicles all along the street, making it hard for buses to get into position and recharge.

During rush hour on some narrow streets, whenever the drivers get their buses into the recharging station, it takes up to four minutes to top up the battery and traffic jams are easily caused.

Another difficulty for the drivers is that they share stops with many other routes, so it is not always possible to get to the recharging station before the battery runs out. Even tree branches get in the way as the new buses are taller than the old ones.

The problems cast into doubt the fate of the Expo buses - should they be used along the routes where traffic is less crowded instead of on main downtown routes?

According to a senior technician surnamed Wu who works on the No. 11 bus fleet, which started using super capacity buses in 2006, the problems of No. 26 bus drivers can be solved with training courses and more time for both the drivers and passengers to get used to the new buses.

"We encountered similar problems when using the new buses four years ago," said Wu, "But when the drivers gained experience and learnt when and how to charge their buses properly and efficiently, all the problems disappeared."

The No. 11 buses run on Zhong-hua Road and Renmin Road, also a downtown area with narrow streets.


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