London’s eco-buses running on diesel due to dud batteries

Posted: July 20, 2015 by oldbrew in Emissions, Travel

Not in Service

Not in Service

The so-called ‘Boris bus’ or London’s ‘new Routemaster’, hailed as a wonder of green technology, is turning out to be an embarrassment, reports BBC News:

I’m told that at the back of a bus depot, there is a large pile of power batteries that no longer work.

All have been removed from the new bus for London and are a crucial part of the hybrid system.

Drivers say that many buses across London are operating without them in place.

That means in some cases what Transport for London (TfL) claims is “the most environmentally friendly bus of its type” is running only on diesel.

Engine cannot cope

Leon Daniels from TfL had maintained that: “The New Routemaster is the cleanest and greenest bus of its class and we have seen absolutely no safety problems with its hybrid system.”

But today he admitted 80 of the new Routemasters are running on diesel generators and in all 200 will have failing batteries replaced under warranty.

I asked Mr Daniels if he was embarrassed about these performance issues. He said he was proud that London was at the forefront of developing new technologies.

In fact the batteries have been a problem for some time. In March, I reported that the batteries were going to be replaced under warranty.

A number of drivers have raised the issue with Christian Wolmar, a transport journalist who is also seeking the Labour nomination for mayor of London.

They complain a lack of batteries means the diesel engine cannot cope. The bus is slower than usual and has poor acceleration.

A letter from one driver said: “In about 90% of buses the hybrid system does not work. It is instead running on the diesel engine all the time (not eco-friendly is it?).”

‘A Boris failure’

Others said: “The hybrid system does not work”, that it is “very slow”, “it just cuts out in the middle of the road” and drivers “don’t feel in control of the bus”.

Mr Wolmar said: “What they have told me is profoundly shocking. These buses do not work properly, the electric motor does not work.

“They stall quite a lot and there’s a danger of them rolling back. Sometimes they go completely out of phase and all the red lights come on and the drivers find it very difficult to control them at times.

“The drivers say almost nine out of 10 do not have the electric motors working. This bus is a ridiculous throw back. It has been a total waste of money. It’s a Boris failure.”

The Unite union has also received complaints.

‘Wrong technology’

John Murphy, Unite’s regional officer, said: “The batteries just aren’t fit for purpose. It’s not that the technology isn’t there it’s just the wrong technology.

“Personally I think this stems from the rush to get through this vanity project.

“They’re not really a practical bus for London. The common practice now is to take the batteries out of the buses so effectively these very expensive environmentally friendly buses are just running on diesel.”

These buses cost £354,000 – a normal hybrid off the peg costs about £300,000.

At the moment there are 500 operating on the roads. A further 300 will be on the road during 2016.

These have been bought by TfL, not the bus companies.

Some commuters love the look of them, others hate the stifling heat on the top deck that is yet to be resolved.

Mr Daniels said: “An improved battery design was introduced on new deliveries and any older ones which fail are repaired or replaced.

“This has all been done by the manufacturers within the warranty period, at no cost to TfL, or the fare or tax payer.”

Report: New Routemaster's battery problems mean many run on just diesel – BBC News.

  1. Routemasters that choke the air, bendy buses that got in the way and caught fire … It’s time we brought back the old electric tram, powered by a wave energy station rigged up by the Thames Barrier

  2. oldbrew says:

    “They’re not really a practical bus for London. The common practice now is to take the batteries out of the buses so effectively these very expensive environmentally friendly buses are just running on diesel.”

    So what would they be practical for? Battery production itself is not exactly ‘environmentally friendly’ anyway.

  3. Petrossa says:

    Reblogged this on Petrossa's Blog and commented:
    how utterly predictable, luckily it’s only taxpayers money so nothing is lost.

  4. oldbrew says:

    wansteadmeteo says: ‘time we brought back the old electric tram’

    Or revive the old trolleybuses:
    ‘The trolleybuses were designed and built specifically to be worthy tram replacements. Like the trams, they were large high-capacity double deckers, with rapid acceleration. They had three axles (necessary as 30 feet long), and were much quieter in operation than contemporary trams or diesel buses.’

    The old Manchester ones used to be rapid enough so the London ones must have been similar.

  5. BLACK PEARL says:

    Another failure

    Ripped out the expensive electric and stuffed in diesel motors
    All in favour of bringing back trolley buses 🙂
    Current Battery tech is just not there for work horse situations

  6. stewgreen says:

    BBC reports 2 year old story : October 15, 2013 PeterMG commented on Paul Homewood’s blog

    “London now has a large number of hybrid buses. ”
    “Now a birdie tells me that the Batteries are not lasting well and that the engines are operation 100% of the time just to keep charge in them to drive the Buses. As I travel on these buses every day, that is the impression I get.”

    “(It is strange and sometimes disconcerting when you travel on a hybrid buses where the engine switches off and the bus drives just under electric power, in other words everything seems to work correctly.)”
    – He also made another claim “we have cracked beaten banished harmful emission from heavy-duty diesel engines” so electric is not cleaner.

    OK I note the BBC London guy did mention the story in March 2015

    – Hey doesn’t the beeboid make some mistakes ?
    “These buses cost £354,000 – a normal hybrid off the peg costs about £300,000.”
    he means “These HYBRID buses cost £354,000 – a normal NON-hybrid off the peg costs about £300,000.” surely ?
    also “80 of the new Routemasters are running on diesel generators ”
    .. he means “80 of the new Routemasters are running on THEIR diesel ENGINES only”
    …It’s not like they have put on an extra generator.

  7. oldbrew says:

    ‘TYNESIDE’S controversial electric buses are being dropped because they are struggling with their hilly route’ – LOL

    What happened in testing or road trials? Don’t say there weren’t any :/

  8. willybamboo says:

    In the United States there are many hybrid transit buses in service now. They can cost upwards of around $750,000 for an articulated, as opposed to $500,000 for a regular diesel or CNG, non-hybrid, artic. Here is the dirty secret. Hybrids do not get better fuel economy. Seriously. They burn just as much diesel or CNG on their daily routes as the standard.

    But they are a maintenance nightmare, and bleed expense like an open wound. Battery failures are the biggest trouble, but far from the only one. But they are ‘green’ so more and more of them go into service.

    CNG has got big range and service/maintenance issues too. But they are not a total fiasco like the hybrids.

  9. tempestnut says:

    Just remember the BBC is incapable of giving the full story here. It is worth noting that the diesel engines in the Boris Buses are Euro 6; that is Zero emissions to all those that don’t think H20 N2 and CO2 are pollutants. No measurable NOx, CO, HC and particulates. That ironically is cleaner than any electric train, tram or trolleybus given its electricity will come from our inefficient grid.

    Hybrid drive Bus with a 4 cylinder ISB Cummins 180hp Plus hybrid drive (as in the Boris bus) should use less fuel that same bus with 6 cylinder ISB Cummins 230 to 270hp depending on route and application. Hybrid drives do not reduce emissions by any other means other than they should save fuel. Anyone thinking otherwise is deluded. And that delusion is the position of the political class who are trying to save CO2.

    The Boris bus is not turning in the expected fuel consumption because the hybrid drive is not working as advertised, and 180hp is what buses had back in the 80’s and given the Boris bus is much heavier than the previous generation of buses (carries more passengers) performance will be hampered. And to add further irony the diesel only buses are using less fuel. This partly because most of them are Euro5 (just slightly above zero emissions) and are slightly more efficient. Neither euro 5 or 6 engines add to city pollution. And in today’s environment with today’s very different diesel engines a city bus needs about 250 hp.

    Also I notice that no mention is made about the even larger numbers of Hybrid buses manufactured by Dennis Alexander that use the same ISB 180 hp engine but I think a different hybrid drive system. Could it be this story has a political dimension?

  10. craigm350 says:

    I was speaking to a driver last week and he was quite ‘effusive’ on the reliability of the new fleets. Almost everything he said was unrepeatable 😀

    [reply] it’s OK, just put ‘*’ over the worst bits 😎

  11. Ben Vorlich says:

    oldbrew says:
    July 20, 2015 at 12:15 pm
    Re-Trolley Buses, Limoges still uses trolley buses. See here
    Also in use in Saint-Étienne

    Poitiers uses LPG powered buses, in both cities the lack of diesel fumes is noticeable.

    [reply] ‘le trolleybus’ – bravo

  12. They have to get rid of the old batteries
    So the alarm bells should start to ring,
    An ‘eco-friendly’ battery, remember,
    Is a truly dangerous thing;
    Environmental contamination for sure
    Their toxins don’t ever degrade,
    So now there’s a REAL man-made threat
    That the warming alarmists have made.

  13. oldbrew says:

    Who said trolleybuses were finished? Read this and weep Mr Boris…

    ‘ For evidence of a true renaissance in trolleys these days, just look at Rome, Lyon, Athens, San Francisco, Seattle and many other cities. With its outstanding energy usage, the trolley bus is an attractive transport choice that is both quiet and emissions-free.’

    Dump the diesel engine, fuel tank, massive battery and all that stuff – just tap into the overhead power lines.

  14. oldbrew says:

    tempestnut says: ‘the Boris bus is much heavier than the previous generation of buses (carries more passengers) performance will be hampered’

    It’s also got to haul round a huge heavy rechargeable battery – until they rip it out.

  15. diogenese2 says:

    I am just old enough to remember London’s Trams but most of my youth was spent travelling on the Trollybuses which were only introduced so as to use the electrical infrastructure that existed for the trams. But their performance was superb and they only fell because their route inflexibility failed to cope with the changing transport demands and economics ,as they aged, favoured the diesel bus as replacements.
    The plus point is, if Boris really is a future prime minister, that he has learned a hard lesson in the delusion and bankruptcy that “green” philosophy engenders and will apply his bargepole to any future such initiatives.

    [reply] he definitely missed the bus this time round :/

  16. tempestnut says:

    I think the point everyone misses is new diesels are squeaky clean. The hybrid system can only save emissions if you save on fuel burn. It can not make the air cleaner, it can only save on CO2 and a modern diesel powered city bus only pollutes the brains of imbeciles, of which all Politician’s are. And the delicious irony is electricity is not as clean. Yes it moves the pollution away and in the days of steam and the early diesels this was a vital necessity. But not today.

  17. Fanakapan says:

    It used to be said that the production of a motor vehicle would produce many more times the pollutants, than said vehicle would ever produce in use. Of course since the Green agenda has been effectively taken over by corporate interests, we dont hear that any more.

    Coupled with the lack of progress in electricity storage, which means that for car sized vehicles at least, the end of the battery, and the cost of replacement, means the end of the vehicle life, it really is surprising that people do not grasp that what purports to be a ‘Green’ or environmentally friendly option, is actually the opposite.

  18. tchannon says:

    Fanakapan, production has been examined in detail, there is no issue over manufacturing energy usage. (off blog I can point you at tome reports)

    Nothing has changed, battry electric, gasolene, diesel in order of thermal efficiency and that comes from a government report trying to justify electric.

    Possibly the second longest involvement in my working life was the motor industry. It never ceases to amaze me at how little is known of simple basics.

    What is known today as a hybrid is an American/Japanese solution for their particular predilections. Do not try a diesel hybrid, pointless and doing so show ignorance of basics.

    These heat engines, internal combustion engines, like all heat engines are best considered by thermal efficiency, how well input energy translates into output twist energy. The best thermal efficiency like all heat engines occurs are maximum output or close to. Same with a power station, gas, coal, nuclear, makes no difference.

    Where the major difference occurs is how the thermal efficiency drops off with reduced power output.

    The petrol/gasolene engine is bad at this, diesel is probably the best we have, this is the key to why in practice they use less fuel. If running flat out was all that ever happened gasolene is slightly better, but don’t even think of lifting. Also why pedal to floor in a high gear is right, don’t use low gears, regulate progress with the gears not the pedal, keep high load on the engine.

    The explanation is not complicated. I have a way of putting it: a gasolene engine is a variable compression engine, diesel is fixed compression. With gasolene reducing power output can only happen one of two ways: reduce the amount fuel fed in but gasolene has a narrow range where combustion works*. The only other way is reduce the amount of air ingested to go with the fuel, a throttle. This reduces the compression pressure but combustion efficiency needs the highest compression pressure possible without auto exploding. Oops. Aerodynamically internally this is poor too.
    *Stratified charge has never been successful, killed at birth by emission regulations, a damning tale.

    Diesel power output can be reduced by reducing the amount of fuel injected. Nothing else needed. The ingested gas flow stays the same, compression stays high. Pumps a lot of air.

    The above is of course a simplification, lots of details and codas, that though is the basic.

    There is another way to reduce power output, “bang-bang” control as some call it in other fields, turn the power on and off repeatedly, maximum or nothing. (in electrical try pulse width modulaltion)

    This is illegal by law on the road but has been used with devastating success on track economy contests.

    Flywheel, electricity, any method, and you have a hybrid. This is still overcomplicated when diesel is available.

    Compounding has never been introduced, tends to be the final step in extracting as much as possible from fuel. Turbosupercharging does though use waste energy. Inlet compression is about that high as possible cylinder pressure again, raising the energy density.

    Mentioning compounding there _is_ a good example, CCGT, the gas turbine is not very good but the exhaust waste heat generates steam, fed to a steam turbine. Without this, not so good. The time response is poor and only works at high output, hence base load.

    Probably said too much.

  19. PeterMG says:

    Tchannon, You have covered the basics well there, not said too much, but as an Ex engine man I would like to add a couple of points. Turbo compounding in diesels has been used commercially by Scania with their 11 litre 400hp engine back in the early 90’s. It used a Holset Turbine (a Cummins development) and was restricted to operators with maximum weights on long haul. And there was the famous post war Wright turbo compound aero engine the R3350 that was the last hurrah of the big petrol piston engine. Also there was the hyperbar engine original developed by the French for a Tank engine and then further developed by Cummins used a combined exhaust turbine and gas turbine to boost airflow beyond that of a turbocharging alone.

    Emissions reduction was against further development of the Holset Turbo compound and is why Cummins dropped development. The same hit the hyperbar engine. Reducing NOx has ironically needed a reduction in in cylinder O2, as excess O2 combines with the 78% excess and useless N2 to form NOx which in turn reacts with sunlight to turn the air in our cities brown. Non-regulated diesels just pumped excess air into the cylinder via turbochargers in order to stop black smoke, but this in turn upper the NOx hugely. It has been the development of the Common rail type electronic fuel system with its multiple injection events, waste-gate and variable geometry that has allowed a reduced in cylinder production of NOx combined with urea after treatment that has now finally allowed manufacturers of commercial diesels to concentrate of fuel efficiency. Along the way we had cooled exhaust gas recirculation as a way of suppressing O2 levels in cylinder.

    They can’t reduce NOx, CO, HC or particulates any further. By the admission of the regulators they can’t measure accurately the current low levels, so asking for an arbitrary further reduction is pointless. However they are dressing the next round of emissions reduction as reducing CO2. This has not been possible for the last 20 years as every emission round has decreased efficiency, that the manufacturers have had to claw back with expensive technology. Now the drive is for simplification to reduce costs, and leave room to apply some of the new heat recovery technologies in development. If we had not gone to Euro 6 and stayed at Euro 5 we could have engines today burning 10% less fuel. I could go on but will leave it there on diesels.

    A last point about petrol or spark ignited engines. The current engines in F1 are no accident. This has been a concerted push by the big manufacturers who thought they would see Diesel regulated out of the market and they would need to convince both the public and the regulators that they had the solution. They now want the rules changed to mandate reductions in CO2 so that these abortions of engines (technical marvels accepted and admired) are mandatory and we the paying public will be forced to buy them. That is why the huge strides to clean up diesel engines get no publicity what so ever. The manufacturers want a return on investment, and it is also a way of keeping cars from the Eastern manufacturers out of the market. No longer do these huge conglomerate manufacturers respond to market demands, they bully governments into regulation that gives them a better return by excluding most outside manufacturers using bogus science. A lot to think about here but I hope it gets the grey cells working.

  20. E.M.Smith says:


    Why I drive a 35 year old Diesel car…

    BTW, Diesel is always more efficient than gas / spark due to the relative compression ratios (bastardizations from various smog requirements excluded) which is why all long haul trucks, busses, trains, and ships in the USA use them. Even at wide open throttle.

    The “modern” Rube Goldberg designs are just nutty and waste astounding money on engine and fuel compared to what could be with about euro4 or euro5 emissions (I.e. nearly nothing).

  21. catweazle666 says:

    Concerning turbo compounds TC, you missed the Napier Nomad.

  22. tchannon says:

    Ah yes the aero engines, lots of fascinating stuff although the gas turbine became dominant.

    Mentioning Napier I briefly contracted working in the old Napier test building, still has some of the wall openings, still a test house except with truck engine test cells. The commute and politics got too much, hope I did enough before leaving. In some ways great fun, the canteen food for example, dark ladies producing lovely stuff, beats the ordinary in large company canteens elsewhere. And of course humour and banter galore.

    Not sure about pictures but got to show you this
    That’s an old test cell.
    (t9 is the little cut down version, 9 instead of 18, wassat then, 3 sets of 3 cylinders, 18 pistons)

    Nomad, someone has done their research

  23. tchannon says:


    Bitter taste the German and UK apparatik ganging up on the French who had lean burn starting to work well, mandate so that cats are necessary.

  24. […] London’s own-design hybrid buses hasn’t deterred further investment in the technology, reports E&T […]