Since the last coach and bus trade show in the UK in 2019, things have moved on a lot
The first three days of November proved very busy for the UK Coach Operators Association (UKCOA), with Euro Bus Expo and a reception held by Zemo Partnership in the House of Lords on 1 November, hosted by Baroness Randerson.
It was great to be back at the NEC Birmingham. A great mix of vehicle manufacturers and suppliers to the coach and bus industry meant that there was something for everyone. We were hosted once again by our sector partner Wrightsure and its team made us feel very welcome, supported by many of UKCOA’s board members.
One immediate difference I noticed was the focus on decarbonisation. A lot has happened in three years, and it appeared to be taken far more seriously by exhibitors and visitors alike. One operator I spoke to remarked that he could not see what all the fuss was about, but I reminded him that this is what was said 15 years ago about PSVAR for coaches, and look what happened. To be fair, he took my point!
It was especially interesting to see retrofit solutions being put forward. Although a bus (and therefore strictly outside my remit), I was impressed by the New Routemaster that has been re-engineered by Equipmake. It makes sense to look at using existing resources as well as new build, as it potentially puts zero-emission vehicles in reach of more operators.
I interrupted my stay in Birmingham to attend the Zemo Partnership reception, although I saw many of the same faces at Euro Bus Expo the following day! I was struck by a couple of comments in the speeches; the call to make public transport better (obvious to many, but perhaps not to all), and the need to ‘make the destination as clear as it can be’, which is very important to many coach operators.
I have been highlighting the concerns of UKCOA members about the challenges of recharging or refuelling zero-emission coaches, whatever the solution may be, and I am heartened that this now appears to be taken more seriously.
David West of Westway Coaches, who is one of the few coach operators in the country with a fleet of battery-electric vehicles, told me that he gets many visits from other companies. But the challenge is not the purchase of the vehicles; rather, it is the cost of getting the electricity supply into the depot or yard. I know of operators who are hunting for pieces of land with a handy electric substation next to it as possible sites for future depots!
I also had some good discussions, both at Euro Bus Expo and the Zemo Partnership
reception, about the use of hydrotreated vegetable oil, or HVO, fuel as an interim solution. Although there are some challenges, including price and supply, especially for the smaller operator, the results look impressive with up to a 90% reduction of emissions in an existing diesel coach.
If the obstacles can be overcome and manufacturers gain the confidence of operators, we could make a massive difference to the quality of the air, especially, for example, in schools that have a large number of coaches serving them every day.
This is a benefit that we can grab now, not just in 20 to 30 years’ time. There is no doubt that this will improve the health of many children and extend life expectancy, which is something that the industry cannot ignore, even though we are part of the overall solution.
Congratulations to all who organised, exhibited at and attended Euro Bus Expo. It was good to be back.