The description ‘Eco-Friendly’ has never been more relevant than in reference to The Big Lemon bus service; “In the world of The Big Lemon, bus travel is fun, friendly, affordable and sustainable”. The bright yellow, single-decker bus comes in a variety of shapes and sizes and drives through Brighton centre, up to Brighton University Campus and, until recently, on to the University of Sussex, using biodiesel in the place of fossil fuels.
During the summer months, it carries flocks of festival goers to festivals around the country, providing the kind of comforting and reliable service that is at its most necessary after days of sleeplessness in muddy fields. On its windows, where the warning signs “DO NOT listen to music too loudly/eat on the bus” etc. would normally be placed, there are puzzles to keep you entertained on your journey and a sign reading “you are NOT being watched by video cameras” reminds you that this friendly company works on the basis of trust and prioritises a positive relationship between bus and its travellers, as well as a clean ethical conscience.
The Big Lemon runs on waste cooking oil, which is supplied by various Brighton-based catering companies. Waste cooking oil can be used to power vehicles after it has gone through a series of steps called hydrogenation or refining, in order to transform it into biodiesel fuel. There are obvious benefits of using oil that would otherwise be wasted, in terms of sustainability and the world’s dependence on ever-lessening fossil fuels. Furthermore, biofuels aim to be carbon neutral, and while they cannot currently be completely so due to the energy required to convert the fuel, “a recent UK Government publication has stated that biofuels can reduce emissions by 50-60%”
In return for cooking oil collected by the Big Lemon, they offer discounted fares and various advertising opportunities; a partnership based around positive use of waste. They have also applied for, and won, a variety of grants, meaning that since the business began in 2008, they have been able to successfully build their eco-friendly business.
In 2011, Brighton and Hove buses, which dominate transport throughout Brighton, guzzling gas and charging over-inflated prices, decided to decrease the cost of an all-day ticket to match those of the Big Lemon for the one journey in which the eco-friendly bus made a majority of its funds. In order to do this, they increased the fares on all of their other routes in a decision that has been assumed to be in order “to get rid of the Big Lemon”.
In taking this aggressively competitive action, the bus company managed to push the Lemon off route, no longer able to afford to fund as many buses to travel the city. The action of Brighton and Hove buses was contested by The Big Lemon, as well many others who set up a “Save the Big Lemon” campaign group, trying to prevent the aggressive action and “illegal pricing” methods of the Brighton & Hove Buses from destroying the small, independent, environmentally-driven bus service. The Big Lemon issued a statement describing the actions of their competitors as having gone “a step too far as it’s clearly hurting bus users in other parts of the city”.
However in a wider context, aside from costing the population of Brighton, the actions of the city bus highlight the difficulties faced by small companies and individuals who want to make a difference to our environment. Sustainable initiatives such as that of The Big Lemon should be encouraged and not halted by competitors abusing their market power.
Students of Sussex University are currently attempting to set up a Co-op in order to fund the reinstate The Big Lemon to its former route!
Image credit goes (with Thanks!) to Mr MPD