“Are you net zero ready?” is a phrase that is going to be popping into your inbox more and more frequently as we head towards 2030. Though it might be easy to ignore for now, there is very little doubt about the direction of transport policy in the UK. Zero-emission at the tailpipe is the only acceptable direction. Coaches will be no exception.
“Companies that fail to adapt to climate change will go bankrupt,” said former Governor of the Bank of England Mark Carney a few weeks ago at COP26. With the UK set to require large businesses to disclose their climate-related financial risks and opportunities from next year, more pressure is being placed on big movers to align themselves with net zero.
Eventually this net zero pressure will float down to settle on coach operators.
Zero-emission coaches consultation coming in 2022
Whether it is impending Zero Emission Zones on the horizon in Oxford or London, or parents asking about local air quality, the zero-emission question will start to impact coach operations sooner rather than later. That is encompassed by the first national-level call for evidence on zero-emission coaches consultation from the Department for Transport (DfT), set to be published in the coming months.
This is why the Confederation of Passenger Transport has established a coach decarbonisation taskforce – to start to answer a long list of questions about how the UK coach market is going to transition to zero-emission. The taskforce has a wide remit, including technology, infrastructure, financing and more. It is going to be a challenge to cover them all comprehensively.
Grants imperative to facilitate the transition
Crucially, there are similar taskforce groups looking at other vehicle sectors and answering many of the same questions. Having been invited to take part in the coach taskforce, I am keen that we learn lessons from other sectors and understand how buses and trucks are decarbonising to inform the coach transition.
The first stop must be a clear appeal to government to make grants available for zero-emission coaches. All other vehicle sectors currently have access to some form of plug-in grant to help to reduce the cost of zero-emission fleets. Although Transport Scotland does offer some support for coaches, those vehicles must run on registered bus routes and only in Scotland,
There is a clear precedent that grants drive innovation and new entrants to the market. This could easily be remedied by the government. DfT will provide over £600m in grants for buses between 2010-2025, and we now have six homegrown zero-emission bus manufacturers.
Learnings from existing zero-emission coaches must be leveraged
Already there are a handful of zero-emission coaches in service in the UK. The coach decarbonisation taskforce must look to capture the early learnings from those in operation. The group must then look to share best practice with the wider industry, creating a one-stop shop for operators to learn about zero-emission technologies and supporting infrastructure.
Another suggested project for the taskforce is to start to map the charging and refuelling infrastructure that is being deployed for buses, and try to drive a shared approach and make the most of grid updates.
It is a long road to zero-emission, but hopefully this taskforce will start to set out clear asks for government and support operators to understand the options available to them in the short-term.