Transport Decarbonisation Plan subdued on coach and bus

Transport Decarbonisation Plan for the coach and bus industry perspective

The Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP), which was published on 14 July, contained little of great note for coach and bus, although for coaches, it commits to a consultation on a phase-out date for the sale of new non-zero-emission models. Many of its commitments for buses were first aired in the National Bus Strategy (NBS) for England, published by the Department for Transport (DfT) in March.

Some aspects of the TDP apply to the UK as a whole. Where transport policy is devolved, the Plan applies only to England. However, the UK government will engage with the devolved nations while the TDP is being delivered “as we jointly work towards our shared goals of decarbonising transport across the UK and achieving net zero UK-wide.”

Accelerating modal shift to public transport and active travel is mentioned frequently by the TDP. But the 220-page document it is light on detail about how that will be achieved other than to say it will hang on a “cohesive, widely available, net zero public transport network designed for the passenger.”

However, it does note that future public sector developments “must be more accessible to public transport.” The TDP does not address potential for road pricing, despite the major fuel duty receipt shortfall that will be created as fleets move away from diesel and petrol.

Transport Decarbonisation Plan largely reheats bus policies

Most of the commitments for buses in the TDP are wholly reliant on policies already outlined in the NBS for England. Questions have already been asked about what funding mechanism will follow the NBS in the next Parliament. The TDP offers no clarity on that despite its stated aim to see public transport increase its modal share.

Transport Decarbonisation Plan - First York Optare Metrodecker EV bus
The TDP details a 22p green incentive for BSOG in England, which will be claimable ahead of wider reform of the grant that is already promised

Expanding the zero-emission bus (ZEB) fleet forms a major part of the TDP’s approach to the bus sector.

It notes that ZEBs are expected to deliver long-term operating cost savings “which can be reinvested in more frequent services, lower fares and other improvements for passengers.”

Fostering the uptake of more ZEBs will likely form a central part of the BSOG reform that will be consulted upon later this year and which was announced in the NBS.

Ahead of that review, the TDP discloses that a green incentive BSOG payment for ZEBs will rise to 22p per km. That, the government believes, will accelerate their take up. For 100 miles operated by a ZEB, that will generate a payment of £35.20.

Consultation on date for end of new non-ZE coach sales

A commitment to consult on a phase out date for the sale of new non-zero-emission coaches is intended to allow the government to understand the barriers that the coach sector faces as well as the opportunities for decarbonisation.

While no mention is made in the TDP of any potential funding to help coach operators transition to zero-emission, a brighter spot is that DfT has already shown interest in utilising multiple avenues to increase that understanding. It has contacted at least one trade body representing the coach industry seeking to open discussions on the topic.

Transport Decarbonisation Plan bus and coach content
Decarbonising coach will be more difficult than for bus. A consultation will be held on a phase-out of new non-zero-emission examples

What is already understood by DfT is that coaches are faced with different challenges to the buses in achieving decarbonisation, as the TDP observes.

However, it also states that the sale of all non-zero-emission road vehicles will be phased out by 2040 at the latest.

As is generally already expected, the TDP suggests that the breakdown of zero-emission technology in the coach sector between battery- and hydrogen fuel cell-electric is likely to be influenced by the approach in the LGV market. However, DfT believes that a combination of the two power sources will ultimately be utilised on long-distance coach applications.