MobilityTech was on in Milan while I was there. A modest conference on urban transportation. There wasn’t a strong environmental emphasis but a lot of the exhibitors were trumpeting the marginal green advantages of their services and products.
I spoke at length with Claus from ZF, who I think had been enjoying a lunch time drink (or 9), but he told me all about their new gearbox for buses and HGVs which is as efficient as a manual. It changes gear as a function of calculated forces, resistance, and acceleration but is less susceptible to driver inputs (ie the driver flooring the accelerator). In practice it’s proved a 5% gross efficiency saving on fuel. No small amount. ZF gearboxes are renowned for being indestructible and this has a rebuild life of 700,000km. I want one. The gearbox also is designed to accommodate on an electric motor/generator/brake and manage the power transfer for hybrids.
I also spent a while chatting with Andrea, a council spokesman for BikeMi, the bike share scheme which has been going in Milan for almost a year now. It’s not quite pay and ride, its more like car sharing. Pay €36/year (or €6/week if you are a tourist) and then you can pick up one of 1400 bikes from any of 100 spots around the centre. Use it for less than 30mins and it costs you nothing more. After that it’s half a euro for half an hour. Most journeys average around 18minutes, and they claim an average of 4330 journeys a day. That didn’t really chime with what I saw in town, but probably most of the use is during commuter hours.
The scheme is run by a private company called ClearChannel that has rolled this out in Barcelona, Washington and elsewhere, but has modified the bikes in Milan to deal with the cobbled roads and tram lines by pimping them with fat tires. (I can picture Mad Mike at West Coast Customs now bragging about 16 inch spoke alloys)
There was some pump priming funding from the council to set it up (“a few million”), and now they subsidise it not with cash but with 700 advertising hoardings that ClearChannel sells space on. ClearChannel also have maintenance teams that go round servicing the bikes and redistributing them when they build up in certain locations.
It seems like a complicated and expensive way to pay for the scheme, but councils are obviously keen to spend the money. The Mayor pushed the scheme through in just a few months from inception to roll out. Rome are mulling it over too. But the primary motive in Milan is to ease car congestion, which is mental, rather than the green benefits, but the two goals sit comfortably together.