This is the last in my series of blog posts about air pollution from buses. I’ve done lots of ranting so I wanted to look at what some solutions instead.
What is currently happening
Alert reader, Julian Hull, pointed out to me that NZ Bus recently invested $50 million in a new bus fleet and has been rolling them out over theÂ last 6 months. This may explain why there has been a noticeable improvement in some of the buses in Auckland. However, I still see a lot of bad buses around.
The government has also been active on improving air quality over the last few years, continuing to increase emissions standards for used vehicles imported into NZ.
They have also just recently announced plans to increase emissions standards for new vehicles entering the country.
Raising emissions standards is good policy and it does lead to cleaner air in the long-term (there’s a bit of a lag time, while people get rid of older vehicles).Â The government deserves credit for sticking to it in the face of considerable opposition from the used car industry.
Other solutions we could implement
The researchers who wrote the report for NZTA (PDF) I blogged about yesterday suggested a few ways to reduce the exposure of cyclists and other travelers to bus pollution:
- Include a requirement in bus contracts for buses to meet a certain emissions standard. This would probably often require bus companies to buy newer buses. The researchers noted that newer buses emit much lower levels of ultra fine particles.
- Retrofit buses with particulate filters. The authors mention this particular solution in their literature review but apparently it’s not a perfect one. Although particulate filters might reduce the number of fine particles buses would produce, they could increase the number of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH) emitted. I have no idea what PAH are, but apparently they are bad for your health too. Whether this would be worse than the current situation I don’t know.
- Build more off-road cycle ways. The researchers found that exposure to air pollution for cyclists fell dramatically as soon as they moved off the road, even if it was only by half a meter. This is one of the biggest benefits of the cycle highways in my opinion – they get you out of the fumes. This solution benefits pedestrians too but does little for other transport users who are still stuck on the road, behind the buses.
- Put in more stop boxes and other cycling priority measures at intersections. This will mean that rather than waiting beside buses or (even worse) behind them, cyclists can get in front before the light changes. I’d guess that this might also be better for pedestrians’ health because if the bus is set back a bit from the traffic lights they will not have to inhale the fumes while they wait to cross. On the other hand, it does very little for the bus passengers.
My favourite solution is to buy newer buses. I know that buses cost a lot and I do appreciate the investment NZ Bus has already made.
However, for a long time the bus companies in Auckland have been double dipping through the way bus contracts are structured.
As with most things to do with transport finance in Auckland, it’s really complicated (you can read more here) but, basically, the bus companies have been able to cherry pick the most profitable bus routes and run them without subsidies, while getting subsidized by Auckland Transport to run the less profitable bus routes. They’ve kind of been taking the profits without the risk.
The good news is that the bus contracts are up for renewal quite soon and the system has been changed so bus companies can no longer cherry pick routes.
The bus contracting process has not (as far as I’m aware) been put forward for any kind of public consultation or scrutiny so I don’t know what it involves.
Personally, I’d love to see Auckland Transport setting out as part of their contracts with the bus companies a requirement that all their vehicles must meet a certain emissions standard within say 5 years.
Sure this would impose a cost on the bus companies but, on the other hand, air pollution imposes a cost on us all through increased health costs.
I don’t have transport or Auckland specific figures but the last report on this in NZ estimated that the health effects of air pollution cost our economy $1.14 billion per year.
What do you think? Which are the worst bus companies or areas of the city for bus pollution? And what do you think is the best solution?