Green Lights for Better Buses

by Richard T. Stuebi

Some elements of the Cleantech Revolution are iconic: wind turbines, solar panels, compact fluorescent lightbulbs, the Toyota Prius. Other elements are just plain invisible.

Global Traffic Technologies (GTT) clearly falls into the latter camp. As profiled in the May 5 issue of Forbes, GTT sells what are called “traffic signal preemption systems”. In other words, systems that smartly switch traffic lights from red to green (or vice versa) depending upon traffic needs at that moment.

So, in cities like Calgary that have adopted these systems, a full bus during rush hour can trump a red light, leading an upcoming light to turn or remain green just for the bus to pass through. This functionality also allows the bus system (and each of the bus stops) to maintain a running tally of where each bus is currently located.

Frankly, this type of system is not rocket science, involving a fairly straightforward combination of GPS, cellular telephony, and some software and switches. Not surprisingly, the cost is by no means exhorbitant: GTT’s Optimcom system costs $5300 per intersection and $3000 per vehicle.

Even though the technology is not radical, the benefits can be substantial. Each of Calgary’s buses with the system is saving about 2000 gallons of fuel per year. Perhaps more importantly, these types of systems can significantly reduce travel times and thereby encourage more ridership — taking a lot of cars off the road, lowering aggregate fuel burn and emissions much more significantly than just the per-bus reductions indicated above.

So, the Cleantech Revolution extends also to that least glamorous of technologies: buses. Let’s hope that more bus systems investigate and adopt this class of solution. If buses can’t quite achieve the same level of passenger appeal as trains and subways in terms of comfort and speed, there’s no reason that the timeliness of their routes can’t be dramatically improved, and attract much more ridership.

Richard T. Stuebi is the BP Fellow for Energy and Environmental Advancement at The Cleveland Foundation, and is also the Founder and President of NextWave Energy, Inc.

2 replies
  1. Johnny 5
    Johnny 5 says:

    As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am less enthusiastic than most about compact fluorescent bulbs. This is due to the fact that the ones currently available contain significant amounts of mercury. If one of these bulbs should break inside of a person’s home, it could cause a challenging disposal situation. It is my belief that the technology should progress to a point at which the mercury levels are low or nonexistent before people changeover their entire homes. Another consideration is that as these bulbs burn out, they will most likely be thrown away as though they are normal rubbish and landfills will have incredibly high levels of mercury in their soil as a result.

  2. Krissy
    Krissy says:

    Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

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