LCQ17: Promoting the wider use of electric buses

     Following is a question by the Hon Kenneth Leung and a written reply by the Secretary for the Environment, Mr Wong Kam-sing, in the Legislative Council today (January 27):


     In 2010, the Government announced that its policy objective was to have ultimately only zero-emission buses running in the territory. Subsequently, it provided a funding of $180 million to fully subsidise five franchised bus companies to purchase eight super-capacitor buses and 28 battery-electric buses (i.e. 36 buses in total) as well as related charging facilities for trial runs in a two-year period (the trial scheme). In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) given that the first batch of five battery-electric buses, after undergoing trial runs at the end of last month, were once returned to the manufacturer for repair due to a safety problem of the gates of those buses, of the details of that problem as well as the functionality and performance of those buses; whether the authorities have followed up on the issue by checking if there are similar problems in other electric buses to be put on trial runs;

(2) whether it has plans to gradually replace the existing diesel buses with electric buses after the conclusion of the trial scheme, and whether it has any implementation timetable for the policy objective of having ultimately only zero-emission buses running in the territory; if it does, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(3) how the 36 electric buses, which will be of the two aforesaid types, will be allocated among the various franchised bus companies, and of the respective manufacturers of such buses; whether it has considered introducing electric buses manufactured overseas for trial runs so as to compare the functionality and safety of the electric buses manufactured in different countries;

(4) whether it has, gearing to the unique climate conditions and rough terrain in Hong Kong, set functionality and performance standards for public electric buses for compliance by manufacturers when they manufacture electric buses for use in Hong Kong, so that the franchised bus companies, on receiving electric buses, do not need to make extensive modifications to the buses for adapting them to Hong Kong's environment; if it has, of the details; if not, the reasons for that;

(5) given that the Hong Kong Productivity Council has spent $38 million to participate in the development of the first "Brand Hong Kong" single-deck electric bus, which was designed in Hong Kong and manufactured on the Mainland and, following road tests conducted in Hong Kong in October last year, the bus was suddenly burnt down last month in a car park, whether the authorities know the cause of that incident and whether they have investigated if the design of that electric bus has any serious safety problems; and

(6) whether it knows the respective charging facilities currently available in Hong Kong which can cater for the operations of the two aforesaid types of electric buses, as well as their functionality and performance; whether it has any plan to provide more of such charging facilities; if it does, of the details (including such facilities' locations, technology for charging batteries, etc); if not, the reasons for that?



     The Government's ultimate policy objective is to have zero emission buses running across the territory. In this regard, the Government funded $180 million to fully subsidise the franchised bus companies to purchase 36 single-deck electric buses, including eight supercapacitor buses and 28 battery-electric buses and related charging facilities, for trial runs to assess their operational performance under local conditions. Although single-deck buses account for less than 10 per cent of local franchises buses, we start our trial with them first, as electric buses now available on the market are mainly single-deckers. The trial can help encourage bus suppliers to speed up developing double-deck electric buses suitable for use in Hong Kong. We will also encourage the franchised bus companies to try out double-deck electric buses when suitable ones are available on the market.

     Since December 27, 2015, the first batch of five battery-electric buses purchased by the New World First Bus Services Limited (NWFB) and Citybus Limited (CTB) with the Government's subsidy has commenced services on five routes on Hong Kong Island. The franchised bus companies are also in the process of completing the procurement procedure and preparing for installation of charging facilities for other electric buses. The trials will commence progressively in 2016.

     With regard to the questions raised by Hon Kenneth Leung, our reply is as follows:

(1) During the regular inspections by the NWFB and CTB on the five battery-electric buses in early January this year, it was found that the bus door would open if the edge of the door seal was strongly pressed from the inside. This only happened when the bus was stationary but not in motion. On safety consideration, the NWFB and CTB stopped the service of these buses on January 8. Upon inspection by the bus manufacturer, it was found that there was a problem in the control software and that was fixed immediately by software upgrade. After the bus companies had confirmed that the problem was fixed, the concerned buses resumed services on January 11.

     To monitor and assess the performance of the electric buses, the Environmental Protection Department (EPD) has set up a task force, comprising representatives from the franchised bus companies, the EPD, the Transport Department (TD), as well as local experts. The EPD will report the interim findings of the trial to the Panel on Environmental Affairs of the Legislative Council early next year.

(2) The trial of electric buses will last for two years. The scope of the trial includes reliability of buses, batteries or supercapacitors and charging facilities, as well as maintenance requirements and economic feasibility, etc in order to assess whether these electric buses are suitable for use as franchised buses in Hong Kong. If the trial results are satisfactory, the Government will encourage the franchised bus companies to use electric buses on a larger scale, taking into account affordability of the bus companies and passengers.

(3) The EPD has consulted the five franchised bus companies and taken into account their fleet sizes, service areas and technology preference when allocating the 36 electric buses. When purchasing the electric buses, the franchised bus companies have also taken into account their operational needs in working out the technical specifications. Open tender was adopted with no restriction on the origin of manufacture. Depending on the tender results, the franchised bus companies will purchase electric buses from more than one supplier for the trial as far as practicable.

     The number of electric buses purchased by the franchised bus companies under the trial and their respective manufacturers are set out in Annex 1.

(4) The franchised bus companies are responsible for the procurement of electric buses for trial. They have taken into account their operational needs and Hong Kong's local conditions in working out the technical specifications of electric buses.

     Every new model of electric vehicle (including public bus) has to undergo a type approval process and pre-registration examination by the TD to ensure that it meets the requirements of the Road Traffic Ordinance (Cap 374) and its subsidiary regulations before the vehicle can run on the road. Having made reference to the relevant international standards and consulted local electric vehicle experts, the TD has established a set of "Vehicle Construction Approval Requirements for Electric Vehicles", which includes specification requirements on functional safety and protection against electric shock, battery safety and charging system. The requirements have been uploaded onto the TD's homepage in 2010 and will be updated having regard to the latest development of electric vehicles.

(5) In 2013, the Innovation and Technology Fund of the Innovation and Technology Commission (ITC) supported the Hong Kong Productivity Council (HKPC) to carry out a collaborative project with an industry sponsor for the research and development (R&D) of electric buses. The approved project cost was $38 million, of which more than half was provided by the participating company. The project deliverables included the design and production of two prototype electric buses for the purpose of carrying out R&D, functionality checks and performance tests.  Since early 2015, the prototype electric buses have undergone over 15 000 km of road tests lasting eight months in the Mainland and Hong Kong. The project team also engaged an independent certification body to take part in the tests. The road tests of the buses were completed by the end of November last year and their performance in all the tests were satisfactory.

     The ITC is very concerned about the fire relating to one of the prototype buses on December 13, 2015. To investigate the cause of the incident, the HKPC has set up a joint technical investigation team with the participating company. The team has also invited leading experts and academics in the field of electric vehicle technology to offer independent advice. Upon completion of the investigation, the HKPC will submit a report to the ITC as soon as possible. As the investigation is still on-going, it is premature to make any conjecture or draw any conclusion at this stage.

     Besides, the TD has not received any application for type approval of the concerned electric bus and hence the concerned electric bus has not been registered in Hong Kong.

(6) At present, there is still no harmonised international design standard on the charging facilities of electric buses. Electric bus manufacturers have to design suitable charging facilities for their own electric buses. To facilitate the trial and provide smooth and reliable bus services, the franchised bus companies will install charging facilities in certain depots or bus stops, taking into account individual operational needs. Details of the charging facilities of franchised bus companies are set out in Annex 2.

     During the two-year trial, we will assess the performance of electric buses and also evaluate the performance of the charging facilities. This is for assessing the ancillary support required, including charging facilities, when further promoting the use of electric buses.

Ends/Wednesday, January 27, 2016
Issued at HKT 12:22