Further weight has been added to the argument that decarbonisation of the coach industry will follow that of HGVs after Under-Secretary of State for Transport Richard Holden (pictured) acknowledged the similarity of use cases between those fleets.
Mr Holden was speaking at the launch of a fleet of hydrogen fuel cell-electric buses by Go-Ahead Group subsidiary Metrobus on 29 June. His words suggest that the government is wedded to the idea that the zero-emission shift for coach will show modest similarity to that of buses, with the minister describing those two as “different industries with different models.”
There looks to be little hope of zero-emission coaches benefitting from central government grant funding, with Mr Holden cool on that suggestion. Instead, he believes that work being done in other areas – including on HGVs – will benefit coaches later. Hydrogen will likely play a significant part in the decarbonisation of the coach industry, Mr Holden continues.
“For coaches, range is very important,” he notes. Also common with HGVs is the frequency with which both types of vehicle do not return to depot overnight. “We are aware of that,” he continues.
That is likely to spell the end date for sale of new non-zero-emission coaches as being the backstop for all road vehicle sectors of 2040, as laid down in the Transport Decarbonisation Strategy. It remains to be seen when such a formal definition for coaches will come forth, although Department for Transport (DfT) Co-Director of Local Transport Jessica Matthew said in March that it is on DfT’s radar.
Nevertheless, such work on coaches remains at the call for evidence stage, an exercise that was part of a consultation document built around setting an end date for the sale of new non-zero-emission buses. A government response to that is overdue, but expected soon. In that call for evidence there is an acceptance that the transition away from diesel for coaches is not as developed as it is for buses.
Mr Holden adds that the government is also aware of the challenges of charging battery-electric vehicles faced by small operators, and particularly those in rural areas. However, he accepts that some large coach businesses will be able to decarbonise sooner than many SMEs.
While the end date for new non-zero-emission coaches is likely to be 2040, the minister points to National Express’s plan – which dates from 2020 – that its coach fleet will be entirely zero-emission by 2035.