Newport Bus has embarked on a next stage of its zero-emission transition that will see 17 further Yutong battery-electric buses joint the operator before the end of 2021. They will take to 32 the number of emission-free vehicles in its fleet, accounting for one third of the total.
The operator has successfully bid for £2.8m of Ultra-Low Emission Bus (ULEB) scheme funding that was made available by the Department for Transport (DfT) after it was returned by another operator in late 2020. 10 10.8m Yutong E10s and six 12m E12s are on order from supplier Pelican Bus and Coach, while already purchased is a former demonstrator E10.
Partnership work is key for Newport Bus battery-electric transition
Newport Bus already has 15 E12s in service that were part-funded by the ULEB scheme. Financials for the additional buses will be structured in a similar way, with necessary infrastructure procured on an operating lease basis from Zenobe Energy. The supplier will also take ownership of the buses’ batteries.
Managing Director Scott Pearson says that DfT was swayed by that approach for the earlier vehicles “because it puts more zero-emission buses on the road.” It was thus happy to repeat the process for the later tranche of ULEB scheme money. The forthcoming battery-electric buses will displace Euro III and Euro IV models.
Expansion of the Newport Bus battery-electric fleet to 32 will complete the first part of its move to zero-emission. However, its shareholder wants the process to continue, and early discussions have opened about a three-year programme from 2022 that would see 12 electric buses delivered during each year of the agreement, taking the total in operation to 68 by the end of 2024.
Solar electric generation increase being examined by Newport Bus
Additional outdoor charging points will be installed for the 17 further buses, but the grid connection to Newport Bus’s Corporation Road site is already sufficient to support them. The operator is currently examining an increase in the number of roof-mounted solar panels at its depot from 214 to over 500. They ‘trickle charge’ Tesla stationary batteries to provide free energy.
All 16 new Yutongs on order will be completed by Pelican at its Castleford base. That work will entail commissioning their batteries and the installation of seats, stanchions, anti-assault screens, passenger information systems, destination display equipment and CCTV.
The ex-demonstrator E10 has been in operation with Newport Bus for around a year on loan from Pelican. It is now being converted to the operator’s specification, which will include removal of its centre door and work to bring its interior to the same configuration as the other vehicles.
Head of Yutong Bus UK Ian Downie has welcomed the further order from the South Wales operator. He says that while customers that are new to battery-electric buses are at first cautious about their adoption, they have quickly found that “tried and tested technology” wins them over. Mr Downie notes that on one day in April, Yutong produced 320 battery-electric coaches and buses.
‘Zero-emission bus transition is good for SMEs too’
Mr Pearson adds that the second tranche of battery-electric buses for Newport is further evidence that with a partnership approach, small- and medium-sized operators can enter the zero-emission fray at pace.
“It is important that SMEs do not feel left behind as the industry moves towards electrification. Our work with Pelican and Zenobe demonstrates that all operators can be part of that transition. We also hope that it raises awareness outside the industry of the possibilities for businesses of our size and smaller,” he says. “They absolutely can make this move by leveraging partnership.”
Thanks to the arrangement that Newport Bus has with Pelican and Zenobe, the battery-electric buses are on target to deliver a lower whole life total cost of ownership than a diesel, Mr Pearson continues. In addition to savings from lower maintenance needs than a diesel, the operator will benefit from economies of scale in electricity purchase as its zero-emission fleet grows.
Driver and customer satisfaction high for Newport Bus Yutongs
All the Yutongs built for Newport Bus have 422kW/h of energy storage. Mr Pearson has already explained how such battery capacity and low energy consumption enable them to operate the interurban link between Newport and Cardiff.
He adds that the X30 fast service and Newport Bus’s contribution to the jointly worked slower 30 route between the two cities may be converted to zero-emission operation with the forthcoming buses. The operator plans to move as much mileage as possible to its expanded battery-electric fleet to maximise operational cost savings.
Recent canvassing has shown that the battery-electric buses already in service in Newport have a customer satisfaction rating of 97% and a driver satisfaction rating of 99%. Both are significantly higher than comparable figures for diesels.