The country’s first natural gas-powered bus has hit the streets of Cork in a trial that could ultimately help Bus Éireann slash its soaring fuel bill by up to 50%.
The near-silent eco-bus, which produces few emissions, will operate on the 216 city centre to Mount Oval, Rochestown, route until mid-August on a trial being undertaken in partnership with Bord Gáis Networks.
Bus Éireann will then evaluate the potential fuel and emission savings, and the performance of the natural gas vehicle (NGV).
If it proves successful, transport chiefs will look for funding to buy a fleet of NGVs for use on publicly subvented services.
Natural gas is currently about half the price of diesel, meaning widespread use of such eco-buses could slash Bus Éireann’s diesel bill, which will rise from €35m in 2011 to almost €40m this year.
Bus driver Fred Deane said: "This is a lot quieter and much more comfortable to travel on.
"As people get off the bus, they say something to me about how quiet the bus was, and how comfortable it was.
"If there’s a passenger down the back taking a phone call, you can hear everything because it’s so quiet."
Gordon Bryan, Bus Éireann’s regional engineer in the south, said the purpose-built bus, which has striking fuel cells on its roof, costs about the same as a regular, €200,000 diesel bus.
"Fuel consumption is similar. We will get about two days of service, or 24 hours, out of a full tank of gas," he said.
The right-hand drive bus is built by MAN and refuelled through a gas fuel unit based at the Bus Éireann Capwell Rd depot in Cork.
Alan Kelly, the transport minister who launched the initiative in Cork yesterday, said: "This trial has the potential to help towards the country’s target of 16% of energy consumption coming from renewable sources by 2020 and increase our energy security."
Bus Éireann chief executive Martin Nolan said this scheme is one of a range of energy management initiatives being undertaken to help reduce the company’s costs.
There are an estimated 320,000 natural gas-powered buses operating in cities such as New York, Madrid, Verona, Istanbul, and Barcelona. Because of their reduced emissions of nitrogen oxides, sulphur, and soot, their use has resulted in significantly improved air quality in these cities.