Lack of certainty around which technology will best suit zero-emission coach operation is the biggest barrier to adoption of such vehicles, a report from the Confederation of Passenger Transport’s Zero Emission Coach Taskforce (ZECT) has said.
The document has been submitted to the Department for Transport (DfT) as part of a call for evidence on setting an end date for the sale of new non-zero-emission coaches, which opened in March. It has been “warmly received” by DfT, says ZECT Chair Ian Luckett.
Mr Luckett adds that members of the Taskforce – which include around 10 coach operators – have shown “enthusiasm” in making the shift to zero-emission, but he notes that the transition will pose significant challenges to the industry and its stakeholders.
Battery, hydrogen or something else: Lack of clarity ‘overarching’
ZECT notes that there “is currently no clear direction” over whether zero-emission coaches will be powered by battery-electric, hydrogen fuel cell-electric, a combination of both or something yet to be developed.
That lack of clarity “overarches” all other challenges in the coach sector’s shift away from diesel, ZECT says. It adds that certainty over driveline technology is needed if the necessary recharging and refuelling infrastructure is to be rolled out with sufficient coverage.
ZECT adds that wider vehicle concerns are also in play with the coach industry’s move to zero-emission. Vehicle flexibility and the impact on usable space and payload are among those challenges. The report notes that if coaches were to be made larger to compensate, that could cause issues with access to some locations. It also highlights that space requirements for PSVAR compliance to be achieved must be considered.
Also part of infrastructure considerations for the coach sector to confidently transition away from diesel is that charging or refuelling solutions need to be present at both depot level and on the road network. That could be problematic where operators do not own their depots, the document observes. In those cases, infrastructure would need to be moveable.
The rollout of those facilities “needs to be aligned with the deployment of zero-emission vehicles,” the report continues.
Infrastructure could also be provided at attractions or coach parking areas.
Other challenges exist operationally, financially and for vehicle OEMs, ZECT notes. It has highlighted that the coach industry is still yet to receive any government funding to support the purchase of zero-emission vehicles.
As part of its next steps, ZECT will start to outline a “workable and realistic pathway” to net-zero for the coach industry. That work will commence with specifying what a zero-emission coach needs to deliver to allow operators to continue to provide a variety of services.
Taskforce moves on to next stage of zero-emission coach work
The next stage will also include engaging with collaborators on potential solutions, including the freight sector on its shift to zero-emission. Echoing what Mr Luckett said in March, the report notes that coaches are operationally more similar to HGVs than buses and that some clarity on technology could come from the goods segment.
ZECT does not rule out aligning its work with trials currently underway with zero-emission HGVs, but it adds that where no solutions currently exist is will make recommendations for those that can be developed.
Speaking on the publication of the report, Mr Luckett adds: “These past six months have been a fascinating time, and I have learned a great deal, not only about the challenges facing the coach sector but also those in the manufacturing, finance and infrastructure worlds.
“I am very much looking forward to the next phase of the Taskforce when we will begin to identify potential solutions and collaborations with the other sectors to join them on this journey to net zero.”
Full report here.