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February 20 2019
By Tim Deakin

Tim is Editor of routeone and has worked in both the coach and bus and haulage industries.

Will retrofit policy and funding come for coaches?

The Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership hopes that it will give a boost to coaches’ case for financial support for retrofit via a Coach Interest Group, which was formally launched in Birmingham on 13 February

Will the road ahead for coach Euro 6 retrofit slowly become clearer?

Finally, there are signs that coach operators may eventually be able to access grant funding towards the retrofit of older vehicles to achieve Euro 6 compliance.

That was the message from the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (LowCVP) when launching its Coach Interest Group (CIG) on 13 February. It drew operators, vehicle suppliers and companies that manufacture exhaust aftertreatment systems.

LowCVP is partially government-funded and it is influential in policy development. The CIG’s purposes are to:

  • Develop the definition of a low-emission coach
  • Develop proposals for low-emission and ultra-low emission coach grant schemes
  • Develop proposals for a coach retrofit programme.

It is hoped that these workstreams will accelerate the uptake of low-emission coaches - although with London’s ULEZ just weeks away, the work will not affect those operators that are affected by it from the outset.

CAZs to spread

More Clean Air Zones (CAZs) are likely. A non-negotiable aspect of a CAZ is that Euro 6 will be required of PCVs. However, it is not mandatory that a charge is levied on those that fail to meet the standard, while in other areas air quality can be brought under control by different means.

LowCVP says that the current best source of money to help pay for coach retrofit is the Clean Air Fund, although its scope is limited. Project Manager Daniel Hayes uses Leeds as an example. Up to £16,000 per affected vehicle based within the CAZ will be made available. LowCVP hopes to see more examples of that in the future.

If that happens, the allocation of funding will be controlled locally, which is not ideal, says Lucketts Group Director Ian Luckett. Based on experience, he advocates strategic control at a national level.

In Lucketts’ home town of Fareham, a CAZ was initially planned. The operator and the local authority compiled a case for Clean Air Fund money to be made available for Lucketts’ vehicles. Then, it was decided that a CAZ was unnecessary. No financial support could thus be had and Lucketts is left to fund retrofit - essential for journeys elsewhere - itself.

Slow thus far

Eminox has developed a CVRAS-accredited retrofit installation for Euro 5 Volvo B9R-based coaches, but interest has been minimal. “Retrofit systems are highly-bespoke and they are tested via a specific coach cycle. The biggest issue so far is uptake. Each development can cost £150,000. We have to be led by the market,” says UK Sales Manager James Thorpe.

Eminox is now working on a retrofit package for the DAF PR engine, and it is creating a facility in Stoke-on-Trent to handle installation work that will complement its Gainsborough headquarters.

Baumot, meanwhile, also points to six-figure development costs as something that forces it to target its coach efforts carefully. Nevertheless, it expects to receive CVRAS accreditation for its first such installation shortly. Like Eminox and Proventia, Baumot will benefit from the government’s award of almost £1m to help develop additional applications.

Further retrofit systems for Euro 5 coaches are set to be developed soon

“We expect to start testing DAF- and Volvo-based systems towards the end of Q1 2019. Serial production for coaches begins in May - but it will be difficult to justify keeping kits ‘on the shelf’,” says Service Manager David Hobbs.

Not just retrofit

Where reducing carbon is prioritised, retrofit does not get a look in. Instead, other areas must be explored, including lightweighting and alternative fuels.

In regard to the former, significant work is being done to develop magnesium alloys. They are already in the wider automotive sector, and while they come with some design constraints, an item made of magnesium alloy weighs one-third of what the same component does in steel.

Hydrotreated vegetable oil (HVO) and biodiesel are the alternative fuels of relevance to coaches, and Lucketts Travel in conjunction with Scania and HVO supplier Green Biofuels undertook a HVO trial last year. It reduced CO2 equivalent by 90%, and no operational changes were necessary. However, HVO costs around 10% more than diesel.

With Lucketts’ fuel bill over £3m per year, fleetwide adoption would deliver a large increase in costs. There is thus no incentive to use HVO, says Mr Luckett, despite it being compatible with numerous coach engines.

Added to the equation is zero tailpipe emissions. Yutong will deliver the UK’s first electric coaches this year, and it says that their fuel consumption will be the equivalent of 42mpg.

routeone comment

Complying with the ULEZ, CAZs and Scotland’s Low Emission Zones without buying new Euro 6 vehicles has already caused a lot of grey hairs in the coach industry. There is still no one obvious path to follow, but some potential avenues are slowly becoming clearer.

LowCVP’s work to deliver clarity on the future for coaches should be welcomed. It is not a short-term project and there will no doubt be stumbles on all sides along the way.

What is affecting the rate of overall progress is a policy of devolving governance of many aspects of emission control zones.

There is no consistent approach. For coach operators, who by default will each be affected by many of those areas, taking a holistic approach thus becomes very difficult.

That needs to change.

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