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Biofuel bus-train-road Answered

The Guided Busway

Essentially, this is like a railway for buses- a narrow concrete "road" open only to modified buses, following the path of an old railway to link commuter destinations together. Supporters say it's more practical than a rail link (as buses can drive straight off the end into town roads), opponents say the concept is flawed and that building a traditional railway would be cheaper. The buses are apparently "100% biofuel powered", though I'm having a hard time finding out exactly where those biofuels come from.

The future of transportation, or greenwashed white elephant?

Update 30-03-2010:

I thought I should update this in light of bassman's comments, and because of something I wrote last October:

"the busway is due to open in a few weeks (so by our bureaucracy time, make that spring 2010)"

Well, it's spring 2010 and this morning on the train to work I finally saw a bus on the busway.  It was marked "not in service" and was populated by half a dozen men in high-vis jackets, so I assume it was a test run of some sort, but at least there is life on it.  Maybe I'll be able to post more about it before 2011?


Have you ever noticed how on every road and highway ever, there's a huge black area in between where you would expect the tires to be? That's oil. Millions of litres of oil that drip-drip-drips one drop at a time from the vehicles passing overhead.

And they expect that grass to live. That's funny.

I'm not sure that's true- that's the bit of the road I ride my bike on and I'm sure I'd notice if it was constantly oily.  Even so, that's for a normal road with constant traffic, whereas this road is going to have maybe one bus every twenty minutes.

Grass is pretty hardy, I'm sure the occasional drip of oil won't be so bad.

It doesn't feel oily, you're right. The oil soaks into the asphalt because it's porous.

But, I agree that for a light use road, you'd get way less lost lubricant. Deep down, I think I just wanted to point out how gross chemical-fueled vehicles are.

vehicles that are properly maintained and serviced don't leak oil of any kind...anywhere....ever

the mass of "stuff" that you're talking about may or may not be oil...it may be other fluids from the vehicle or unburned fuel from the exhaust....the part of whatever this "stuff" is that is actually oil comes from improperly maintained vehicles.....so...assuming that they use new, well maintained busses on these lines...then there should be no oil leackage at all....and since most busses that i've seen that run on biofuels (for some reason) have their exhaust up on top of the bus itself i don't thnk you'd get a mass deposition of unburned fuel in one place either

i drive a buss for a living and they all leak and burn oil no matter how well maintained

I hadn't heard of BRT before- I agree, it looks similar but the intended areas are quite different.  BRT appears to be an alternative to light rail or trams/subways in dense cities, whereas I think this system is meant to do the job of a train: serve high volumes of traffic between a few towns separated by a few miles, more quickly than regular buses but more cheaply than building a new rail line.

BRT's are being used in a lot of different ways right now around the country, the one in salt lake city (hardly a dense city)runs down the center of the road and boards passengers just like a lite rail Trane would.

I work on at the Utah Transit Authority, which is the private organization that runs SLC's mass transit system.

We only offer two services that feature a dedicated line of track and neither involve buses.
Trax, which runs through Salt Lake City, is a full blown light rail service. Trax runs on electricity, and pulls 3-5 cars at a time.
FrontRunner, the other dedicated rail service, is a full blown commuter train. The passenger cars are mostly double decker passenger cars that were specifically built for the purpose of moving people up and down the Wasatch Front, but there are a few single story passenger cars which have been salvaged from the Union pacific railway. I'm not sure if the Diesel electric locomotives are salvaged or not, but they're full blown locomotives of the type typically used by the big freightyards.

OK dude, what about the dedicated lane for the Max bus BRT 35M?

The Max line services a rural community (rural relative to the north south traffic along I-15), connecting a western lying community with the main trax hub.

It's used, but it's not used by  a large portion of the population.

Trax on the other hand is, and it's pertinent to the discussion because the Max Bus lines begins service starting at a Trax station.


Meaning that all traffic on the Max line will likely end up on Trax.
It's not a secret that UTA has investigated extending Trax lines out to communities that sit to the east and west of SLC proper, but many of those have been put on hold for one reason or another (lack of community interest, High start-up cost without a gaurentee on returns, etc...).

It's possible that the Max line was a compromise made with the Magna community to facilitate rapid mass transit without the need to immediately lay track for a light rail system, though such is speculation, and I can't say anything definitively.

This said, a dedicated track is quite different then a dedicated lane. Dedicated lanes have been used off and on around the country for along time.
Utah recently installed a commuter/toll lane and it's been somewhat successful. The lane isn't dedicated solely to buses, but single occupancy vehicles aren't allowed unless they pay for a permit to use the lane.

Hmm... I guess it's probably a mix of all of the possible leaks you could have from a modern car, come to think of it. I shouldn't have stated that as unequivocally as I didst. I still don't like this idea though. Biofuels have a massive impact on global food economies because of the consumption of crops they require, and that's not cool in my books. Especially when you have food riots all around the world.

The essential concept is good, but I feel like maybe some kind of not-heavy solar/electric bus would be superior in a lot of ways. It wouldn't smell as bad, would appeal to more smart investors than "biofuels," and, if the power came from solar or some other minimally destructive means, it would actually be less pollutant.

That's true, for first generation biofuels made from crops (corn, soy etc.). These are (sadly) the ones receiving all the subsidies, but I believe the fuel for these buses is going to come from a plant using food waste run by <a href="http://www.argentenergy.com/biodiesel/">Argent energy</a>. Second-gen biofuels using waste don't have the same knock-on effect on food prices etc.

with all the hubub about biofuels cutting into the world's food supply....i've yet to see any valid proof that it's happened...or is probable to happen...everything i've seen is speculation to an extreme that could be considered fearmongering. the thought that people who are currently growing crops for food would all of the sudden stop making anything for food is a little silly especially concidering the VAST amount of uncultivated land that's on the planet right now that could be used just for biofuel growth

<blockquote><div>i've yet to see any valid proof that it's happened...</div></blockquote>That's probably because you live in a rich enough country that an increase in food prices hasn't caused you to starve.<br /><br />http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2008/jun/19/climatechange.biofuels<blockquote><div>The IMF estimates their impact as 20-30%, and other estimates are even higher. Over a third of US corn is used to produce ethanol, while about half of EU vegetable oils go towards the production of biodiesel.</div></blockquote>If a third of US corn goes towards making ethanol and people are eating the same amount, that's 150% the original demand. Increase demand by 50% and the prices will go up drastically- that's just the free market for you. Only it's not free, some of the corn growth is subsidised which is artifically <em>lowering</em> prices. That didn't stop the <a href="http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/how-the-rising-price-of-corn-made-mexicans-take-to-streets-454260.html">Mexican corn price riots</a> because the price of corn flour had quadrupled. People don't riot because of "speculation", they riot because they don't have enough money to eat. Are you saying the International Monetary Fund and the population of Mexico are collectively wrong because you haven't noticed food prices increasing?<br /><blockquote><div>the thought that people who are currently growing crops for food would all of the sudden stop making anything for food is a little silly</div></blockquote>Have you never heard of a <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cash_crop">cash crop</a>? That's <em>exactly </em>what people do. Basically, the shortened version goes like<br /><br /><em>Corporation: Hey Mr subsistence farmer, how'd you like to convert all your fields to growing coffee and I'll pay you loads of nice shiny US dollars?<br />Third world farmer: $$$?<br />Corporation: $$$!<br /><br />(Farmer converts all of his fields to growing coffee beans)<br /><br />Corporation: Hmm, seems like there's lots of farmers around growing coffee. How about we pay you a quarter of what we were paying you before?<br />Farmer: ...<br />Corporation: Well, if you don't like it we can always buy off someone else...<br />Farmer: :(</em><br /><br />Preventing this is the basis of the Fairtrade movement- the above isn't "speculation", it's a well documented business model of such corporations as Tesco (essentially the UK's Wal-Mart) so they can sell cheap food in Western countries. The farmers aren't stupid- they make much more money growing cash crops than subsistence farming, so grow the cash crop and buy food instead. <br /><br />Again, in a free market it's the logical choice, and if Tesco can get a captive supplier and then drive down their prices, their bottom line gets fatter so well done to them. If they have to clear-cut the Amazon to grow soybeans, well, those trees weren't making anyone any money. When you throw subsidies into the mix (ie, the government will pay you to grow corn for ethanol as opposed to something else) then for the traditionally not-massively-lucrative farming industry it's an easy choice.<br /><br />Even if we completely ignore all of the above, first-generation biofuels are <em>still</em> a bad idea because food crops are so energy intensive it requires a massive energy expenditure to grow the crops, so making them releases more CO2 than burning the equivalent amount of fossil oil. Waste products and less energy-intensive crops like jatropha help this, but a seriously economical biofuel won't be around for at least the next several years.<br /><br />


8 years ago

I think this is a Greenwashed elephant.

The track ways might decrease traffic on the main roadways, but decreasing traffic isn't the same thing as being ecologically friendly. All in all, there's too many variables that can make this dangerous to the environment, rather then ecologically responsible.

That all said, the people probably need the mass transit.

Places like Newcastle and Manchester have turned old suburban rail-lines into light-rail systems or tramways.
It's the balance of rail to street that make the difference I guess.
Trams or tunnels in Cambridge?


The Newcastle Metro is a very good system with only one flaw, they don't allow bikes (non-folding) but it is very handy and charges by zones. and even goes right out to the airport and the coast.  reply to an old comment I know, but I believe sometimes they are underrated. :)

Don't worry about bumping old comments, the busway is due to open in a few weeks (so by our bureaucracy time, make that spring 2010) so I'm going to update the topic with how people react to the busway when it's actually running.  I might even get some photos/video if I can get my camera out near public transportation without being arrested.

Not sure where your guided busway is but my local one is the Cambridge to St Ives (UK). It is almost a year over run, over budget and still showing no signs of opening since the cycle track/service road/bridle-way has flooded where the engineers built it level with flood run-off fields. I live near Swavesey, Cambridgeshire and there's a section that is impassable due to flood water. This means users may feel compelled to walk or cycle along the tracks instead - which wouldn't be a good thing once the system is operational.
I'm still surprised that they built such a hugely expensive and massively heavy construction bearing in mind that the buses weigh under ten tons each yet a railway is lighter, cheaper and quicker to build yet is designed to take trains and rolling stock up to 200 tons which the original railway was designed to do. Having said that, I like the idea of being able to get on the guided bus next to the MGOC and ride into Cambridge which is good so long as one doesn't need to buy anything heavy or bulky.
Like all new projects, time will tell whether this is a success...

Yep, the Cambridge - St Ives one is the one I'm talking about.  I didn't know it was quite that far overrun, but I only moved back to Cambridge about nine months ago and that was the first I heard of it.  If you know of any way to get more information than just looking at the website or bothering the council and getting a form response I'd be interested to hear it.

I quite like that system, it's nice to ride out to the coast on a Sunday & browse the junk-sale at (is it Monkseaton? I forget). Parts of Merseyrail are positively miserable.


Don't know, the only junk sale I saw was at Tynemouth station on a Sat. :)

Yes that'd be the one. I know there was a walk to Whitley bay via "Lardy-Bill's" chip shop at Cullercoates, but I must have been thinking in the wrong direction.


I'm interested in how this turns out (and what they aree fueled by). It's a move in the right direction for eco-friendly transportation.

Imagine if we quit feeding the rats, what kind of marvelous transportation and cityscapes we could summon from the gifts of our european ancestors, as rewards for upholding all their work and spirit. I like the idea of biodiesel made from commercial hemp. Only senseless laws and the greed of oil companies prevent the growing of major crops in US for biofuel.

feeding the rats=allowing beaurocracy to grow till it stifles the country and replaces the population with foreigners.

I know what you mean- I would love to visit the places in continental Europe where major parts of cities have no private car traffic and are entirely pedestrianised (see this list ). I'm not quite sure what you mean by "feeding the rats" though.

I consider biodiesel from waste plants to be one of the more realistic post-peak-oil scenarios, but sadly absurd subsidies are taking emphasis from real innovation (algae, jatropha, waste biomass etc.) towards corn ethanol which is no real solution.

Corn ethanol isn't the best type of ethanol, right? I think its about politics. Corn ethanol/gasoline mix gets horrible gas mileage and can reduce engine life in most cars. If you use the proper piston rings and fuel additives, corn ethanol would be awesome for small scale production (race car/ATV/OHV gas), but I think stilling alcohol is illegal in 50 states.

They want to do this to the comber greenway here, an old railway turned cycle path, I don't see how it doesn't make more sense to just make the road for standard buses... Surely it'll be cheaper to do that...

Having an isolated right-of-way eliminates the scheduling complications of congestion, cross-traffic, etc. All those routes, the buses essential operate like, and with the benefits of, trains. Once within urbanized areas, the same vehicles can take on the flexible routing available with the extant road network, a flexibility unavailable to trains or light-rail. Using the kind of "trackways" shown in the picture, rather than laying a full multi-lane road, is cheaper in terms of material used (about 1/4 of the concrete/asphalt is needed). It also reduces the local climatic effects of large exposed areas without vegetation (the urban "heat island").

it's the modification of buses that may increase the costs though, not really sure how much they'd be depending on the number of buses and how much changes are made...

"Modified"? Oh! I see; look at the "Why is it guided?" section of the Web site linked above.

The picture shows a lovely little bumper attached to the bus tire (okay, okay, tyre :-). I guess they want to run the thing like Disneyland's Autopia ride. That's actually a really cool idea, and ought not to be very expensive, since a purely mechanical linkage can do the trick.

Ah well that makes enough sense, looks like a really simple job... I have seen things like this before and they do work well though I wonder is there a need to alter steering systems slightly so the wheels aren't resisted against...

Resisted against? I thought the bumper wheels would just align the bus's front wheels with the track. Their justification for the special road is the saving in raw materials and building, and because car drivers will be less likely to mistake it for a regular road.

Personally, I also think it looks much better than a normal road or rail line, and chose the above image to show that off. It reminds me of sci-fi utopian visions of future transport- in my ideal world there would just be these, trains and cyclepaths with no cars (until we can all travel in tubes).

I was wondering if a standard steering system would naturally resist movement pushed by the castors, it might not be an issue at all but it wouldn't be hard to fix either...

Looks pretty dangerous...