Some of the drivers apparently reported an unusual sensation requiring adjustment of speed on tight corners. Generally, drivers were very positive about the driving experience with comfortable stop-start cycles and smooth acceleration. Public surveys noted that the silent operation of the buses, relative to regular buses, was a favorable driving experience. So much so, in fact, comments were received about the noise levels of the air conditioning systems.
The failure of the Perth trials is rather perplexing. The demands placed upon the buses were not significantly greater than any of the European trials in terms of the distances covered or the gradients over which the vehicles had to operate. The fuel cell repair time (the most prone component responsible for 41 percent of all failures) did increase over the duration of the trial. Despite a real-time troubleshooting link to the Australian suppliers, the refueling station, however, was unavailable on 39 percent of days in 2005 and the averaged fuel costs (in terms of Australian dollars per kilometer of travel) did work out at between five and six times that of diesels and between six and seven times that of CNG buses, dependent upon the route selected. The criticism that the average inter-stop distances in Perth were too great to optimize fuel-cell buses stop-start cycle performance, and that the emissions gains from cleaner idling periods did not really cut much ice with the true detractors of the project. The Australian trials were characterized by modest successes, however. The occurrence of call-outs decreased over the first 12 months of the trials and the general maintenance reliability data were considered comparable with diesels.
One of the biggest hurdles with the fleet introduction in Australia has been in gaining approval for gas-powered buses from all the involved authorities. According to Simon Whitehouse of the Western Australia Dept. of Planning and Infrastructure, “Codes and standards for hydrogen and fuel cells for transport just do not exist in Australia yet.” The same department stated that, despite winning a prestigious national environmental award in 2005, it was “not economically viable to retain the prototype” which was officially decommissioned in October 2007. A figure in excess of 1 million AU$ per vehicle per year was cited as the maintenance cost. Technical issues are still far more significant for the Australian investing parties it would seem.
The high summer temperatures in Perth were blamed for much of the failure associated with the nozzle/hose connection. Madrid, however, experienced higher average summer temperatures without the same failure rates. Informed opinion supports the theory that there was insufficient political will to continue subsidizing the program—all the more surprising in a state heavily in surplus. (As of December 2007, Australia is now a signatory to the Kyoto Protocol.)
Across the entire CUTE fleets, the other principal conclusions drawn from the investing parties were that the actual refueling process was too lengthy, that the concept of self-service refueling by the public was still remote and that the cost element was still a problem. Gunter Elste, CEO of Hamburger Hochbahn, commented, “Mrs. Benz bought the first petrol she needed for the first car at great expense from her pharmacy.”
London Hydrogen Partnership
The future of hydrogen in public transport is being taken very seriously in London. Mayor Ken Livingstone has recently announced the establishment of the London Hydrogen Partnership, a public-private partnership initiative aimed at addressing air quality, climate change and ambient noise issues in England’s capital city. Integral to this is a public auction process for the supply of a hydrogen transit fleet for use on the city’s roads by 2010. The award criteria are revealing; the heaviest weighting (25 to 35 percent) is reserved for the whole life cost of the hydrogen vehicle purchase and subsequent operation, all other six criteria, including maintenance capabilities, previous design experience, medium-term commercial viability, operational fit with existing roads, etc., rank lower in importance. Cost is still the paramount issue with hydrogen-based design.