A Cleaner, Greener, Bus

Taking the bus to school is no longer an annoyance - and a potential health hazard - for medical student Mao Lei.

Her commute on Bus No. 49 to Fudan University's Medical College used to be unpleasant, she says: "Whenever I missed the bus, the smoky exhaust pouring out as the vehicle trundled away just added to my frustration!"

But these days, Mao Lei doesn't have to contend with fumes as well as frustration when the bus speeds away without her. Since March 2, the city's first compressed natural gas-powered bus started running on Mao Lei's No. 49 bus route. Two days later, 35 more CNG buses began plying the same route.

"CNG bus exhausts only emit water vapor, CO and CO2. They're so clean that even if you placed a pure-white handkerchief on the exhaust pipe, it would remain white," said Lu Yuliang, a spokesman for the Shanghai Sunwin Bus Corp., manufacturer of CNG buses in conjunction with Volvo.

Research indicated that CNG-powered buses produce 19 percent less harmful CO and CO2 emissions, compared to gasoline.

"There is large-scale greenery in Shanghai, but the pollution from bus emissions is offsetting the positive environmental effect of photosynthesis," points out Lu. "Thus, the issue of bus energy is crucial in terms of creating a cleaner environment."

But due to the scarcity of refueling stations and the high price of natural gas, CNG buses remain a distinct minority in Shanghai.

The 35 newly-built CNG buses will be joined by over 200 more retrofitted former fuel-powered CNG buses this year, but even that hardly makes a dent in Shanghai's fleet of 13,000 buses.

"The main problem with increasing the number of CNG buses is a lack of refueling stations in Shanghai," says Wang Zhonghu of the Shanghai Bashi Industrial (Group) Co. Ltd., Shenxin Bus Co.'s parent, which runs the No. 49 bus route.

Currently, Shanghai has just one natural gas station in Pudong, with two more under construction. The problem is compounded by the price of natural gas, adds Wang. "One kilogram of natural gas costs 2.5 Yuan (30 U.S. Cents) in Shanghai. In Chengdu and Xi'an, that same kilogram of natural gas costs just 1.3 to 1.7 Yuan."

To alleviate the problem, a project to pipe natural gas from China's western regions to its east is being designed, with the aim of reducing natural fuel cost.

Under the plan, it's expected that by 2003 Shanghai will use natural gas from Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region. Natural gas from this region is both cheaper and of a higher quality than the gas from the East Sea, currently the major gas resource for the city, Wang said.

"If the government treats natural gas like Liquefied Petroleum Gas - that is, sets the prices according to international standards and does not impose taxes - CNG will have a competitive pricing edge relative to the current price of gasoline and diesel oil, which sells for 3 Yuan per kilogram," said Sun Yizhi, deputy director of the Passenger Transport Department of the Shanghai Urban Transport Bureau. At present, 28,000 Shanghai taxis use LPG.

According to the bureau, more than 2,000 old buses will be retired this year, and aside from CNG-powered buses, other environmentally friendly models are in line to replace them. Models like the New Concept Urban bus, manufactured by Sunwin, reduce emission smoke by 90 percent, meeting European emission standards, says Sun.

Li Ling, a passenger on the New Concept Urban bus trial runs between March and May this year, which ran along the No. 6 Tunnel Bus Route, had nothing but praise for the vehicle's comfort and spaciousness: "The floor is very flat, without any screws, and stairs are lowered whenever the door is opened, which is both considerate and interesting," she said.

Yet despite Li Ling's praise, only 20 such buses have been ordered.

"Yes, the price is much higher than other buses, but in the long run, it's more cost-effective," said Lu. According to him, the maintenance costs of this bus are low as the motor requires overhauling only once every half a million kilometers, and the chassis, once every million kilometers. In addition, the New Concept Urban bus will reduce fuel consumption by 5 to 10 percent.

"We are asking for additional government subsidies for the purchase of these new-model buses," said Sun Yizhi. "If the bus companies have to pay for all the new buses they buy out of their own pockets, it will be a huge financial strain. We feel that the government should shoulder some of the responsibility for replacing the old, polluting buses - after all, they are a part of the image of our city."

(Eastday.com.cn 06/04/2001)

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