Oscar Bel: driving a 100% electric bus
The electric bus on line H16 is about to celebrate its first anniversary and the response could not be better. We asked the driver to tell us about his experience, as well as that of the passengers with whom he interacts on a daily basis.
Oscar Bel, 42 years of age, gets up every morning and picks up a bus from the TMB hangar in Barcelona. From here he heads for route H16, which he repeats numerous times throughout the day. Passengers hop on the bus, get their bus ticket stamped, find a seat or stand up, then they get off… Just like any other bus in the city. Just the same… except the silence. This bus is electric. The first 18 metres bus in Barcelona to move around the city without polluting it. The first of many.
Oscar describes what it is like to drive this type of zero-emission bus after testing it for nearly one year. “The most notable aspect is the improvement when changing gears. The electric motor is continuous; it doesn’t jump from one gear to another. It is a great improvement for your back and for passengers”, the driver told us with a smile, after 20 years driving buses, 12 of those in the TMB, he should know. At the end of the day, changing gears in conventional buses really affects drivers’ backs. Passengers also mention this, particularly in terms of how smooth and quiet the vehicle is. “In Spain we are very practical. Convenience is important to us. We still don’t have the environmentally-friendly mentality of other countries in Europe”, we are told.
Apart from protecting the environment (and human beings) from a huge amount of nitrogen dioxide, there are advantages to electric buses that are gladly received by most pedestrians and passengers. This silent bus is no trivial matter, bearing in mind that the noise pollution of buses is on a par with that of noisy night time refuse trucks or delivery trucks. “When you drive below 10 kilometres an hour, it sounds like a boiler (chss… chss… chss…)” says Bel, “so people nearby are aware that it is moving. I have spoken to blind people and they are delighted, because they say it is easier to distinguish than a conventional engine in the middle of city traffic. This helps them”, he said. And in terms of these silent vehicles, the driver is right when he says, “At the end of the day, if someone is distracted with their mobile phone, they are not going to hear this vehicle or any other”.
“When I collect the bus from the hangar, it has been plugged in overnight and the battery is fully charged”, continued Bel. “For a two-hour route, with the air conditioning on full in summer, the bus uses approximately 16%, since it recovers energy during braking”, he adds. “I believe this is the ideal urban solution, because electric vehicles use more energy on fast roads or motorways, going at high speeds. Cities are full of traffic lights, stops, give-way signs, pedestrians, traffic jams… And that contributes to charging the vehicle”, says Bel, who insists that he is not an expert, but he does know a little about it. “Whenever we drive buses, even diesel buses, we try to do so efficiently, so not much has changed in that regard. We take courses on using as little energy as possible, with an immediate consumption indicator, which makes the exercise quite interesting”, he tells us.
Oscar also tells us that the charging process when the bus stops is very easy. When he reaches Endesa’s pantograph, which is what the mechanical arms that charge electric buses are called, he simply has to place the bus underneath it. It is all automated and the battery is charged to 80% in less than 10 minutes, which barely allows you to stretch your legs. And off you go!
Gentle and gradual acceleration
The line is fully urban and the bus never exceeds 50 km/h. It is not just because these are the legal limits, line buses are limited so they cannot exceed these speeds (including diesel buses).
For Bel, one of the most important aspects is the gentle acceleration of an electric bus: “It is fast but continuous, gradual and easy. With diesel buses, you accelerate in first gear and then there is quite a noticeable little jump to second gear”, he tells us.
Soon another Endesa pantograph or charger will be installed on the other side of the line and plans include the purchase of a few more buses. Bel predicts that “Perhaps in a few years there will not be a single diesel bus on our streets”. “All vehicle manufacturers are choosing this type of mobility and as soon as they start working with larger figures, prices will also drop”, the driver tells us.