See through the fog

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V-Stop’s Simon Whitney

Peter Jackson learns all about V-Stop’s pioneering automated bus disinfection system

Singaporean firm Biocomm’s UK arm, V-Stop, recently unveiled a potentially revolutionary new automated bus fogging system, which disinfects an entire bus or coach in a matter of minutes. The system is currently being trialled by D&G Bus.
I spoke to Simon Whitney, Business Development Director at V-Stop and Kevin Crawford, Operations Director at D&G Bus to get the full story on the development of the system and what makes it a game-changer.

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[/wlm_nonmember] [wlm_ismember] CBW How did V-Stop begin in the UK and branch out into transport sanitising?
SW Biocomm are very well established, and have been around for over 25 years. They do a lot of alcohol-free sanitisers, but mainly for the B2C market. A commercial entity was set up in the UK by Steven Foo, who began discussions with Dave Williams from Future Developments about selling sanitiser products in the B2B market. Dave already had a really good sanitising agent, which is very effective at killing bugs while being safe for human beings. But the current methods of delivering it – like sprays and portable fogs – Dave thought there must be a better way. At the time, he was talking with Kevin from D&G about using air bombs to sanitise his bus fleet. It was then suggested, ‘what about if we put a fully-installed fog system on one of your buses, would it work?’

CBW So you were involved in the development of the system from the beginning Kevin?
SW We were originally using sanitising aerosols on the vehicles, and then Dave said it’d be far easier if it could be automated, which is where it all stemmed from. I haven’t done all the hard work to develop it though, all we’ve done is worked with them to try and get a product that works for everybody. The reasons why we’re so keen are that, for one, it’s so much better for the environment because you’re not chucking aerosol cans away constantly; and two, it’s automated, so once it’s up and running there’s very little in the way of the human element. It’s all automatic, and you’re fully confident that the bus is clean. With Covid, my focus has been on getting people’s confidence back up to go and use the bus again. This is just one way of trying to do it. I still maintain to this day that I think it’s an absolutely superb idea, and I’m so pleased we were able to work with V-Stop to get this to where it is now.

CBW How long did it take to develop the system, following that initial conversation with Kevin?
SW It was around six or seven months on from that conversation that we put the barebones of the system together. There’s a lot of trial and error involved; it’s great that it’s automated, but that means we have to make sure that the system will effectively do what we want it to do without human intervention. What kind of nozzles do we need and how many? How big a tank do we need? There’s a certain amount of trial and error in that. For example, when it comes to the nozzles, if you have a larger droplet size the fog is a bit wet – it wets the interior of the bus too much. If it’s too fine, it stays aerosolised for too long and doesn’t settle. So it’s a little bit like Goldilocks’ porridge – it’s got to be just right!

We’ve achieved that now though. On a full-size single-deck bus like an ADL Enviro200 or an Optare Versa, just three nozzles will do the whole cabin effectively. We’ve proven that with swab tests before and after, conducted independently, and the kill rate has been absolutely as we wanted it to be – 99.99%. The British Standards Authority now has a test for fully-installed fogging systems, so we will be applying for and getting accreditation for that new standard to further prove the system’s effectiveness.


The system can be adapted to suit different-sized vehicles

CBW How easy is it to scale the system to suit different sized vehicles, from minibuses to double-deckers?
SW Essentially, with a double-decker bus, you’d have two reservoirs and pumps – one for the lower deck and one for the upper deck – but with one control unit to cover the lot. On a smaller vehicle like a minibus, we would have only one or two nozzles depending on the size of the saloon. Three is more than enough for a full-size single-deck, so one or two would definitely do the same job on a minibus.


CBW Is the system modular then, so it can be adapted easily depending on the length of the vehicle?
SW Essentially yes, although with different models of bus you have to find different cavities to put the reservoirs in. It’s typically a five-litre reservoir, so it’s not taking up a huge amount of space, which makes it very adaptable to the needs of the vehicle.

CBW So where does the reservoir typically sit on most buses?
SW On the Optare Versa, if you’re looking down towards the rear, it sits on the inside of the nearside rear panel. The destination display is on one side, so there’s space on the other side for it. To be fair, on the Optares it works really well.

CBW Obviously it’ll vary depending on the size and model of the bus, but how long typically does it take to install the system on the most common models? And how much can operators expect to pay?
SW Based on the Optare Versa, the initial install typically takes no more than four hours with two engineers on the job. I would anticipate that once they’re used to the process, that time would come down to three or three-and-a-half hours. Factoring in the install time as well as the cost of the equipment, you’re looking at £4-4,500 for a single-deck bus, and a bit over £7,000 for a double-decker bus. We do have leasing options available for operators as well, which might be more relevant on the coach side.

CBW I would imagine that actually works out to be a lot cheaper in the long run than having to pay cleaning staff and buying lots of aerosol cans.
SW Yeah, obviously Covid’s had a big impact and we’ve had to employ more cleaners. But I definitely think that these sanitising measures aren’t going away any time soon, and having kit like this means there’s all sorts of things you can do. Yes, you can use it to control the virus on the bus, but the big advantage is you can do all sorts down the line. After a certain period of time, there’s always that smell on a bus… they’re renowned for smelling stale. I’ve mentioned to Dave and Simon about putting some kind of fragrance in the system instead at a later date, which would address that. We’re trying to make the bus as appealing as possible to get people onboard, and I think that would definitely help.

At the moment, the focus is on making people feel safe to get them back on the bus, but usually the first way you can tell if something’s clean is from the smell. So it would be good to find a way of spraying a fragrance onto the bus as well.
The chemical that we use can’t be fragranced unfortunately. However, the big plus is that, apart from it killing coronaviruses and bacteria and other pathogens, it kills mould and fungi as well. From what I’ve picked up from working with the bus industry, and as Kevin said, buses are moisture traps in various areas. V-Stop will kill the source of musty smells, and get rid of it entirely over a period of a few days.

It’s also compatible with HVAC systems; if the air-con or ventilation system is running during the fog, it will go through there and completely sanitise that as well.

CBW How do you know for sure that the system has functioned correctly – is there a way of monitoring when the fogging has completed?
SW The company that we’re working with, 21st Century, has a lot of ECUs and has been able to adapt one to log all of the data from the fogging system. That’s also backed up onto the cloud, so the bus operator will have access to it all remotely. The operator can control when the fogging happens through an app. It can also be wired into the CCTV on the bus, so you have physical evidence showing the fogging has taken place. So there’s a lot of functionality in the system – it’s much more intelligent now than when we started developing it.

CBW Is there potential for this system to be offered by OEMs in future?
SW Absolutely. There aren’t currently any discussions taking place with OEMs, but I think it’s just a matter of time before they begin. We’ve been developing the system further and I think we’ll have a second version on D&G buses soon – we’ve updated a lot of the system.
I think once we get to that level, we can probably speak to the OEMs and see how they would like to work with it. But I think in terms of the market and in terms of urgency, the retrofit option is going to be of more use to the industry currently.

CBW It looks like a lot of measures implemented during Covid are going to stay around after it’s over – sanitising perhaps being one of them.
SW Covid hopefully will be able to be supressed by the ongoing vaccinations, but the NHS has taken an absolute hammering over the last 15 months – waiting times are going through the roof. So anything that can be done, particularly on public transport, to supress disease transmission – whether that be the common cold, norovirus or food poisoning – has got to be a good thing. Our system does exactly that.
The second thing is convincing people to get back onto the bus, rail and public transport in general. The Government told everybody to stay away, but it’s now ‘as you were, we want everyone back on buses.’ That is going to be key to getting the UK PLC working again effectively, and helping us meet climate change targets which are being brought forward in some cases.

CBW What has the impact been of V-Stop on your business Kevin, and how have passengers and drivers responded to it?
SW The feedback we’ve had on the sanitiser system from passengers and drivers has been really good – it’s gone down really well. I can’t emphasise enough that we’ve had no negativity towards it. From my point of view, it’s not going to hinder the recovery of the bus industry – it’s only going to enhance it.

It’s also cost effective longer-term. And you have to factor in staff – we’re legally obliged to look after them, and this system goes some way towards that. Let’s not forget staff in this, because like most people they’ve had a rough trot of it. In addition to an overnight fog which would typically last 20 seconds, operators can also – at the end of the route when the passengers have got off – initiate a five-second fog to reinforce that disinfection. That will settle out within 90 seconds, so passengers can get straight on to the return route knowing that the bus is freshly disinfected.

Members of the V-Stop and D&G Bus teams with local MP Jack Brereton at the launch of the fogging system