Santa Clara VTA has 3 buses covering standard routes in daily use. AC Transit is bringing its three hydrogen powered buses online now. SunLine Transit Agency received enthusiastic rider acceptance of its first hydrogen bus. It recently added a second. With many vehicles just now being put into commercial service, the daily ridership will jump to over 2,000 in the next few months.
In 2009, we will likely see over 10,000 daily riders of hydrogen vehicles. In 2012, we will likely see over 100,000 daily riders of hydrogen vehicles. Both forecasts assume that vehicle growth will slow to 70% per year in 2007.
Buses have been very helpful in moving hydrogen forward. A fleet of buses needs only one hydrogen fueling station. Hydrogen skeptics have predicted that we will wait forever as public station owners refuse to add hydrogen pumps without millions of hydrogen vehicles and vice-versa. The general public does not take the lead in technology like this. Fleet owners take the lead.
These fleets are like anchor tenants in a shopping center. SunLine started with one bus. Soon other hydrogen vehicles were using the same fueling station. CNG vehicles then started using hydrogen-CNG blends, increasing fuel efficiency and reducing damaging emissions. Stations are being expanded in capacity to support larger fleets. To be part of the California Hydrogen Highway, these fleet stations must provide limited public access. This encourages other organizations and individuals to use hydrogen vehicles.
Most public transit buses carry 200 to 2,000 riders per day. The number varies with routes and urban density. The buses often run 18 hours daily. Hydrogen buses are popular with riders. Jaimie Levin, Director of Marketing for AC Transit, reports rider enthusiasm and strong community support. Being new and somewhat limited in range, hydrogen buses may only average 10 hours of daily use. It is too early to have precise numbers of daily riders, but 250 people per bus per day is reasonable. This will bring us to 2,000 riders on the 8 hydrogen buses running in California.
A sage said that we tend to over estimate success in the short term and under estimate it in the long term. Disruptive technology has always shown this pattern. It took Alexander Graham Bell over 20 years to get a few hundred people to lease telephones. After all, who could they call? IBM’s initial forecast of the saturation of the global computer market was seven. Over time, they increased their forecast. The same growth will happen with hydrogen transportation. As fleets expand and as the hydrogen stations expand in capacity, costs will diminish and ridership will grow.
In his State of the Union Address, President Bush stated, “And here we have a serious problem: America is addicted to oil, which is often imported from unstable parts of the world. The best way to break this addiction is through technology…. tonight, I announce the Advanced Energy Initiative — a 22-percent increase in clean-energy research — and in pollution-free cars that run on hydrogen.” Hydrogen is one of the technologies which will lead us to energy security.
Hydrogen promises to end our nation’s dependency on oil. Wall Street lives in fear of a disruption in the Mideast sending oil to over $100 per barrel and our nation into another Great Depression. Hydrogen is a ubiquitous energy carrier. In today’s modest quantities it is also a good deal more expensive than gasoline.
Early clean transportation riders are benefiting from fleet owners such as SunLine, AC Transit, Santa Clara VTA and South Coast Air Quality Management who are willing to invest in the future. They are leading with multi-million dollar fleets and their own hydrogen fueling stations. California is a role model for the world.
John Addison is the author of the book Revenue Rocket (Executive Summary at www.optimarkworks.com). John Addison’s articles have appeared in H2Nation Magazine. Since 2002, John has been a Board member of the California Hydrogen Business Council. John Addison is president of OPTIMARK Inc. a firm that helps with marketing strategy and partner development. He teaches extension courses for the University of California at Davis and at Santa Cruz. He is a popular speaker in the Americas, Europe and Asia.