One thing many Americans have been loathe to accept is public transportation. Perhaps it is a feeling embodied in the quote attributed to Homer Simpson that “public transportation is for jerks and lesbians.” Or maybe it’s the fact that America is huge and far too spread out to make public transportation viable for many commuters. Yet even so, public transportation remains one of the smartest choices for much of the US, and, with the green revolution must come greater acceptance of it.

And, when you’re talking public transit, buses make up one of the most important parts, but they are gas guzzlers. So naturally, weening these behemoths off of petrol is a high priority for many city governments. Towards this end, China and Sinautec have been testing a fleet of electric buses equipped with ultracapacitors for quick recharging and zero emissions… and so far it works.

Of course, there is a catch.


Seating 41 people, the Sinautec buses are lightweight and fully electric thanks to the ultracapacitors on-board. Even though the charge time is quick (around 5 minutes), the problem with these ultracapacitors is that they need to be constantly recharged, as often as every 3.5 miles (with air conditioning) to 5.5 miles (without a/c). To combat this problem, numerous charging stations are located along the predictable bus routes.

The buses have a maximum speed of 30 mph, and, obviously, with such a short range these first generation buses are severely limited. Yet they spew out 2/3 less emissions than a regular bus—even if the bus gets its electricity from coal power. And surprisingly the bus trips don’t take much longer than a regular bus trip because the quick charging occurs automatically when the bus extends a line from its roof to an overhead charger.

Converting buses worldwide to electricity or other renewable, cleaner fuel sources would be a huge undertaking, but would ultimately benefit a large amount of people. State governments would be less burdened with fuel costs (Sinautec estimates their bus could save $200,000 over a 12-year lifespan) and fewer breakdowns, as electric vehicles have fewer moving parts. This means fares could be cheapened to make public transportation more appealing. I don’t expect to see too many Sinautec buses around me anytime soon, but if they could double the mileage while keeping charging to 5 minutes or less, it might start making even more sense. How many city buses go faster than 30 mph anyway?