Coach sector at a crossroads on zero emissions

Sustainable Bus Transport

Zero emissions

A new report that highlights the challenges faced by the UK coach sector has been published by the Zero Emission Coach Taskforce (ZECT).

Working backwards from a deadline of 2040 which is the government’s target for ‘Net Zero’, the Taskforce is very concerned that a lack of certainty over zero emission technology is the most significant barrier facing the industry.

Its report calls for clarification from the government on whether coaches of the future will be powered by batteries, hydrogen or a combination of both. The coach industry outlines that electric powertrains are currently the only plausible option available to operators but this has its limitations for commercial viability. In building its case, a survey by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) found that 54% of coach operators believe a zero-emission coach would need a range of over 250 miles for them to have confidence to invest in such technology.

While zero-emission coaches are already available in the UK, these have not yet achieved a real-world range of 250 miles. CPT says that for coaches to make the transition away from diesel, vehicles must be able to deliver this minimum mileage, which is an average distance across all services, or there should be a reliable rapid-charging network in place. Whilst home-to-school services are much shorter, averaging 50 miles in range requirement, they account for only 28% of operators’ revenue, on average.

The Taskforce argues that the few electric coaches currently available on the market do not deliver the required range that would give operators the confidence to continue operating the services they currently provide. Whilst hydrogen vehicles would potentially deliver greater range, ‘green hydrogen’ is expensive to produce, making it unaffordable for most operators.

Then there’s the actual purchase price. Zero-emission coaches are significantly more expensive than diesel vehicles and require additional investment in supporting infrastructure for depots. There is also the issue relating to the resale value of a zero-emission vehicle, as yet unknown, which makes developing a business case for capital expenditure difficult to justify to lenders.

In addition, significant investment is needed nationwide to create a reliable network of recharging infrastructure, which could include mobile charging solutions. Extra training is also likely to be required for drivers and workshop staff to ensure that new vehicles are operated, recharged and maintained efficiently and safely.

Established six months ago by the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), the ZECT brings together key stakeholders including coach operators, manufacturers, finance and infrastructure specialists as well as observers from the DfT, Welsh and Scottish governments.

Having submitted its report, it will now proceed with the second phase of its objective, which will look to identify potential solutions to the barriers and potential collaborations with other key stakeholders, to develop a pathway to ‘Net Zero’ that it believes will be workable for coach operators.

Because of the extent of uncertainty that remains around zero-emission coaches, CPT wants to see a phase-out date for the sale of new non-zero-emission coaches that is no sooner than 2040. The report highlights that coaches have more in common with LGVs than buses in their application. But while the date set for the end of sale of new non-zero-emission LGVs in the same weight bracket to coaches is 2035, the Taskforce believes that coaches should be subject to the end date aligned with heavier LGVs, which is 2040.

John Dwight, Sales Director of Imperial Engineering, which supports coach operators across the UK with OE parts, commented:

“It’s encouraging to see the level of collaboration across the coach industry to address the concern of future powertrains for the sector. Whilst electric technology seems to be the preferred way forward, there remains a lot of work to do to ensure that operators can be confident in their future investments. As a major distributor of OE parts to coach customers nationwide, Imperial is adapting its product portfolio in response to demand as the industry transitions steadily towards a zero emission network.”