Towards cleaner cities

Volvo Hybrid in London

Volvo Hybrid in London

I would say that London was the first city with a constructive plan for emission abatement. The Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, issued a call for green transportation already in 2006 in preparation for the 2012 Olympics. The first objective was to realize clean and energy efficient hybrid buses for London. Since then, Volvo has supplied more than 500 hybrid buses to the UK. No doubt the initiative by the Mayor of London has made a big difference.

Today, a large number of cities around the world have relatively precise plans for the future. A lot of focus is put on buses that have the ability to simultaneously impact both local emissions and transport capacity. Many cities compete in becoming the first adopter of sustainable transport technologies. In general, there are two time lines:

i) one group of cities have the intention to purchase only emission free (mainly electric) buses from 2020

ii) the other group is set to convert their full bus fleet by 2025

From my perspective both time lines are realistic and efficient.

If I generalize there are three categorize of initiatives:

1) Political initiatives pushing for a change (e.g. Ken Livingstone in London)
2) Private enterprises (e.g. Sales Lenz in Luxemburg introducing new environmental technology in order to strengthen their role in the future transport system) 
3) Citizens’ demands towards improved environment, in particular with respect to air quality and noise (e.g. Sjöstadsföreningen in Stockholm  )

In the last example, the citizen group Sjöstadsföreningen (try to pronounce that if you can) has identified a number of environmental issues to deal with in order to improve the quality of living in the neighborhood: energy use, waste management, air quality, noise.

The activists push both the industry and politicians to realize a change. An initiative has been taken to renew the bus fleet in the city from today’s gas buses to the new generation of buses that is driven by electro mobility. In the end, it is all about quality of life.

Volvo Buses is proud to be able to contribute with a new generation of Hybrid and Electric Hybrid (plug-in) buses that will be able meet the demands of progressive mayors, bus operators and citizens.

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Modern cities




Especially with growing population, many cities around the world have concerns about air quality and noise. Legislation for emissions has gradually grown stricter for cars, buses and trucks alike.

Buses naturally face tougher challenges and demands as they drive through residential areas, close to people and homes.

Volvo made the bold choice to only offer hybrid buses for city traffic in Europe. Not one single low-floor buses (except one double-decker version for UK) are delivered without a hybrid drive. The hybrid bus can start from the bus-stop in electric mode, which makes it more silent than the diesel version.

Hamburg is a city with one of the most visionary public transport plans in Europe. HOCHBAHN is the main operator in the city and has been leading the development in realizing the vision of Mayor Olaf Scholz and HOCHBAHN Chairman Günter Elste. HOCHBAHN has started to realize this vision by investing in Volvo Hybrid buses, but this is just the beginning. From 2020, Hamburg will only buy emission-free buses.

Recently, Hamburg has taken yet another step t when HOCHBAHN ordered three Electric Hybrid buses from Volvo. The Electric Hybrid buses use high power opportunity charging from the electric grid to enable the buses to run mainly in silent and emission free electric mode. The new buses will be taken into traffic by the end of this year.

Read more…

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Visiting the Album conference

Dark clouds

One Monday back, some dramatic clouds appeared over our offices at Arendal in Gothenburg. Unfortunately, I am not keen on extreme weather patterns and I had to catch a flight to Edinburgh that afternoon. As the song title from 1944 goes, we were “Coming in on a wing and a prayer” as we made through the turbulent skies arriving safely in Ediburgh. 

Airlink 100 Ediburgh

In contrary to most airports today, that have commuter rail and taxi services on offer, Edinburgh offers air travelers a large selection of buses going to several directions. The Airlink 100 proved most convenient for me as I was heading to the city centre. 


I’m used to jogging with my dog in the mornings, so I woke up early to have a short run around the well-known castle and old town of Ediburgh. It was a beautiful morning with clear blue skies.

New tram in Ediburgh

I encountered an unusual sight, the new tram. The new catenaries are seen along Princess street, one of the main streets. The new tram was out for test runs and still empty, excluding a few technicians conducting some work.

Traffic bottleneck in Ediburgh

Here, the buses are waiting for their turn to come into a traffic bottleneck in the center of the city.

Volvo hybrid bus

The Volvo Hybrid bus arrives in front of the Sir Walter Scott monument, sorry for blocking the sight…

bus advertising

In many cities where public transportation has less competition, you will find adverts, for instance, for shampoo at the rear of the bus. In the UK, advertising space is reserved to promote the bus companies themselves.

Volvo Bus promotion

We also came to the same conclusion for the Album conference and bus exhibiton, at the Murrayfield rugby stadium.

Gavin Hastings

Rugby legend, Gavin Hastings, gave probably the most engaging presentation at the conference, speaking about leadership and good examples.

 Arthur's seat

Next morning, I went on another jog and passed the Arthurs Seat

Green hills

… and, the beautiful flowers covering the hills.


Volvo Truck & Bus North and Scotland has put in place a new “Volvo Frontline support” service lead by Mark Gillfeather. In the new set-up, the service team is independent in the sense that each one decides on their own about diagnostics, advice, actions and billing. They have excellent coverage over the area from Teesside to Inverness.

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New infrastructure approaches to BRT



Introducing Jorge Suarez

Today our city mobility colleague Jorge Suarez presents a “guest blog” on the subject of new approaches to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) infrastructure. Jorge recently moved to Sweden to join the City Mobility team. He has been responsible for implementation of BRT solutions in Latin America. Below he shares some of his experiences to present a fusion with Electromobility ambitions of cities.

– Edward Jobson

New infrastructure approaches to BRT

By Jorge Suarez

Jorge Suarez

Recently, I did a business trip to Bogotá along with other City Mobility colleagues. I was happy to see the new Transmilenio feeder going into the airport, and the trunk line taking you to the city center through Avenida 26 in 20 minutes. I left my native Colombia some 10 years ago and Transmilenio, certainly a strong influence on my career in transportation, continues to impress me. Transmilenio is such a well thought-through solution: its concept combines bi-articulated buses, dedicated stations, multiple stop points (key to high-capacity), real-time passenger information and, more recently, wi-fi at stations. A distinguishing feature of Transmilenio is the intergration of public space and bike use.

In this same visit, I was lucky to use a new service running through iconic Avenida 7 in its opening week, using the first Volvo hybrid buses in Bogotá. Bogotá aims to improve its fleet technology and this is the first step towards electrified public transportation. I was impressed at the underground Transmilenio stop in front of the National museum. I am more and more certain that cities will have to invent new creative ways to use scarce urban space to build infrastructure. Electromobility opens the door for innovative use of urban space as electric buses enable zero-emission, low-noise zones and the use of indoor bus-stops.

BRT Transmilenio

Transmilenio station on Avenida 26 with bike underpass


Public investment should not be the only solution for infrastructure. When you have 50,000 people coming into a terminal, such passenger flow becomes an important market opportunity. People tend to need to buy things or run errands during their journey so this opens up the possibility for retailers to install themselves in the terminals. Transport operators can invest in commercial space and have a share of the rents to improve their business profile as a whole. The city can, in return, ask for urban space improvements. The other opportunity is the integration of housing and office buildings with bus terminals, so-called Transit-oriented development. For Volvo, this ultimately means that we as manufacturers should think outside the box about how buses insert themselves in urban landscape. We are, thus, able to advise cities and customers on infrastructure design so it is compatible with bus operations.

Underground stations

Underground stations

Images: MSN News; El Espectador.

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Prioritizing bus paths

Shanghai night sky

Shanghai night sky

Last week my city mobility colleague, Magnus Broback, made a presentation at a seminar about public transportation in Shanghai and we took the opportunity to visit some of our contacts while visiting. As an old city that is still growing, Shanghai struggles to find a balance between efficient public transportation and city planning.

The old part of the city is especially crowded with all types of vehicles running in the streets. The traffic moves slowly and becomes disorderly in the crossings. However, in some areas main corridors have been defined, which makes the pace quicker with traffic lights controlling the flow. In these sections buses are prioritized and often given the priority of way in separate lanes.

Volvo/Sunwin bus

One of the thousands of Volvo/Sunwin buses in Shanghai

On small roads close to the city center, buses have little priority and frequently get stuck between cars. This leads to low speed leads and fewer passengers, which, in turn, results to lower priority given to the buses.

How can a city find methods to prioritize the street space for the benefit of the society?

If we compare three cars to one 12m bus, they actually occupy about the same space on the road, 35 sqm. Cars carry on average 6 people and the bus carries 30 people. This is not only a question about congestion: the time lost in traffic per person should be valued equally.

How can society find simple principles to compare the right to priority for different road users?

Value of time for travel: in literature we can find different standards for defining the value of travel time. For travel to work, I find it is logical to use the GDP per capita per working hour as a base. This gives us a measure that can be locally adapted for each city, but still easy to understand and use.

In the table below I compare the hourly cost for the number of persons occupying 35 square meters of street space.

Table: Value of travel time

All costs in $ GDP 2013 Work hours Three Cars

6 persons*

One Bus

30 persons*

  US$ per year Cost per hour Cost per hour
Brazil 12118 1766 41 206
Canada 43146 1710 151 757
China 9828 1850 32 159
Germany 39468 1397 170 848
India 3991 1841 13 65
USA 52839 1700 186 932

*global rough average

The assumption is that the hourly cost is defined by GDP per working hour in each country. The consequence is that the value of a street occupied by frequent bus traffic is about five times higher than the value for a street of cars, assuming that the capacity difference is used fully. I see a counter in front of me where the cost is ticking constantly.

Now, the interesting question arises…

If a car user wants to get prioritized what is a reasonable price for the street space from the perspective of the society?

I would reason that the difference in time-value is one important factor. The car users need to buy the time from alternative use and, at the same time, transportation capacity needs to be taken into account. 

The value of time is frequently used to compare priority of new investments. The question is whether this line of thought can be used to prioritize road space for different means of transportation and for different times of the day.

Is the value of time for different means of transportation a number that is useful for making educated decisions on using prioritized lanes and planning infrastructure?

On Wednesday evening, my travel companion for this journey, Magnus Broback, and I decided to have dinner in the city. The bus stop outside the lobby of the hotel was crowded with two buses running different routes, clearly marked by Arabic numbers 184 and 642.

Most people walked to the bus stop from the surrounding residential areas, while others came by bike. Seemingly a constant flow of passengers embarked the buses. At this time of the day, nobody seemed to exit the bus at our stop.

When passing the metro station earlier the same day, we saw a bus terminus with lots of routes delivering travelers to the subway. We assumed that at least one of the buses would take us the 3548 meters (the accuracy delivered by my nerdy habit of logging travels by GPS) to the nearest metro station. However, all the signs at the bus stop were in Mandarin, which neither of us can speak or read. We decided to ask the concierge for help.

The following conversation took place at the desk in the lobby of the hotel:

Me: Which bus can take us to the metro station?

The receptionist: You want to go to the metro station? Where are you heading?

Magnus: We are going to the city center.

The receptionist: I will call you a taxi.

Me: But, we want to take the bus and the subway.

The receptionist: The taxi can take you to the metro station.

Magnus: Is it bus route 184 or 642 that stops at the Technology and Science Museum station?

The receptionist: No you cannot take the bus.

Me: Why?

The receptionist: You will get lost.

We left the hotel without further discussion. It was getting dark, so we decided to take a risk. We decided to jump on the first bus that arrived, bus 184. It was most user-friendly. A lady, with a small red flag that she stuck out of the window to show her location, was selling tickets on-board the bus.

The price was 1 Yuan each, which was very cheap. As the bus was getting more crowded, the lady moved around to check the tickets, including the digital tickets found on smart phones, which were used by most. During our last leg, the bus was getting too crowded for moving around and we helped by passing money and tickets between new travelers entering the bus and the lady with the red flag. We followed the bus path street-by-street and found that it took us to the station after 4 stops along the way.

The moral of this story has many implications. Buses in general are perceived as complicated. The large number of routes makes few people aware of which route is heading for which terminus. There is a feeling that the bus may escape the route and not head for the right stop. We people in the bus business have a lot of work to do to make the systems more transparent.




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Don’t panic


”Don’t Panic” is the phrase on the cover of “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. This is possibly the best advice that can be given to mankind, according to the author Douglas Adams

“Don’t Panic” is also the title of a recent documentary made with Dr. Hans Rosling. The message is that we are facing severe challenges, but simultaneously, there is also a flicker of hope with our slow and steady progress in the right direction. This is something that most of us, particularly who have not recently gone to school, need to be updated on.

I had mixed feelings after the ”Transforming Transportation” conference in Washington DC in January. On the one hand, I could feel the determination and passion of the delegates to make a change to reverse the increasing trend of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, but on the other, a sense of frustration near to panic crept into my mind.

The growth of population in combination with increasing urbanization is a major concern.  This also affects the ever growing demand for transportation. In 1950, the global urban population was 750 million people. Today, the urban population has increased to 3.7 billion people. This means that the population in cities has had a fivefold increase in 63 years!

Table: World population and urban population

 Year Global
Global urban
















Like always when forecasting future developments, the information is not 100% reliable. However, when studying the most accurate data available (from the UN), we can find that population growth is actually forecasted to slow down compared to past trends. The second derivative is negative, today!

I plotted the graph below to analyze the relative growth development of the urban population. If the global urban population has grown fivefold in the past 63 years, my analysis indicates that in the next 86 years we can expect a 2.4-time increase of the urban population. Yes, in absolute numbers the growth is actually higher than the past 63 years.

If the assumptions are right, it shows that from a “relative change perspective”, we are over the worst part!

Figure: World population and world urban population versus time.

Figure: World population and world urban population versus time.

Now, note that there will certainly be a very wide distribution function in the growth of cities. Some cities will actually shrink, while other cities will increase 10 times their size. If we ask the political leaders in each city, it seems that most cities have the ambition to grow more than the median/average. This will of course not happen.

The most tricky part is to forecast urbanization in a developed country. If we assume that by 2100 world trade has evened out most of the local differences, the natural conditions for agriculture, mining and urban activities will determine the degree of urbanization in each part of the world.

With the help of Gapminder, I chose some reasonably developed countries with a normal trade balance like the United States of America, United Kingdom and Ireland. It seems that any number between 60% and 90% of urbanization is identified as normal.

Urbanization is, however, also strongly affected by fashion. With the risk of over simplifying reality, it seems that today’s preference is to live in big cities (we know this by studying how much people are prepared to pay for their living). This may change in the future. Clean, cost efficient and silent electric hybrid buses may be an enabler.

Figure: Historical development of the urbanization from 1984 to 2011, in some selected countries.

Figure: Historical development of the urbanization from 1984 to 2011, in some selected countries.

There are still some severe challenges ahead of us, but there is no reason to panic. Considering that mankind actually has gained a lot of experience from city planning and public transportation in the last 63 years, I feel that we are creating a lot of good examples of efficient cities, new and old, to learn and develop from.


Population data and forecasts

Forecast of population 2050

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Green Gothenburg


Green Gothenburg

This week Business Region Göteborg, which has the mission to create long term sustainable growth in the Gothenburg region, hosted a full day seminar dedicated to the electric hybrid bus technologies and services.

The focus of the day was primarily on the ElectriCity bus project that is run by a close partnership between Västtrafik, (public transport authority in Region Västra Götaland), Göteborg Energi (City of Gothenburg), Johanneberg Science Park (Chalmers), Lindholmen Science Park (Chalmers), Business Region Göteborg and the Volvo Group.

The electrification of buses is a qualifier for:
Silent, clean and potentially carbon emission free bus travel

Which in turn is an enabler for:

  • Indoor bus stops
  • Bus services close to residential areas sensitive to noise
  • Bus services in tunnels that need costly ventilation

and much much more…

I liked the inspiring ideas from the Science parks that look at new business opportunities in connection to making the public transports more attractive for the users. Ideas that provide answers to challenges such as indoor bus stops, connected services to the journey, personal travel advice (such as an accident on the route can generate a recommendation for a new route) or reservation of a bike in a bike pool close to the terminus.

Fredrik Persson

Fredrik Persson (Göteborg Energi) is demonstrating the electric charging station at Redbergsplatsen.

Ulrika Bokeberg at Västtrafik moderated the meeting and led the panel discussion that involved Nils-Olof Nylund (VTT Helsinki), Rolf Hagman (TOI, Oslo), Leif Magnusson (VGR, Göteborg), Kåre Albrechtsen (cph-electric, Copenhagen), Lotta Brändstrom (Göteborg Energi) and myself.

With the exception of Helsinki, it seems that most cities focus on promoting electrombility for cars instead of electrification of the bus fleet. This is somewhat hard to understand since most buses are used more than 10 hours per day while most cars are used less than two hours per day…


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