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How Crooks Stalled the Electric Bus For 100 Years


This article in New Scientist exposes the century-old fraud that prevented electric buses from getting a foothold in London when gas (petrol) powered buses were in their infancy.  The electric bus presented obvious advantages over the gasoline-powered bus because of the noise and pollution that first-generation internal combustion engines produced.  However, in 1907 when a battery-powered bus was introduced in London for the first time, the people in charge of the new bus company were swindlers.  They promised 300 buses for the streets of London, silent and dependable, but only fielded 20.  The rest of the money, 95,000 British pounds, or roughly $15 million in today’s dollars altogether, was siphoned off for the private use of the two principals.  The service collapsed in 1910 despite being incredibly popular.  Because of the rapid evolution of the internal combustion engine, the collapse of the leading battery powered fleet led to the adoption of  gas-powered buses despite their noise and smell.  A battery-powered bus fleet lingered in service in Brighton for another seven years.

Today, plans are being laid for a wholesale return to battery power because diesel fumes are becoming more and more culturally objectionable as we learn more about their effects.  Europe and Great Britain are both moving strongly towards replacement of internal combustion engines with battery-powered vehicles over the next twenty to thirty years.  The United States would do well to imitate them, and we suspect that independent adoption of battery vehicles will be extremely popular in this country regardless of what the government does.

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