What will Transport Decarbonisation Plan spell for the industry?

Will Transport Decarbonisation Plan spell an end to sales of new diesel coaches and buses?

Much fanfare has been made about the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) that will set out the actions that both government and industry will need to take to achieve the net zero ambitions of 2050. The plan is expected in spring 2021. It could well hold some ambitious targets for both coaches and buses.

For buses that generally means battery-electric and for coaches, hydrogen fuel cell-electric. Biofuels and hybrids are still on the cards for those longer-distance routes, while hydrogen infrastructure is being developed and deployed at scale.

There is always the chance that batteries will develop at such a rapid pace to be able to outcompete hydrogen, but there is a long way to go yet.

Could biofuels play a part in the Transport Decarbonisation Plan?

Is there any desire in the industry to adopt either biofuels or hybrids? We have certainly seen appetite from both coach and bus to look at alternative fuels, and hybrid buses have been running for over 10 years now.

Stagecoach runs much of its fleet on 20% biodiesel, while trials of HVO have been carried out in both coach and bus. With the right incentives, I believe that we could see a high-level adoption in the industry. A carbon-based tax system would be the best way to encourage the commercials to do the talking. This could be a real possibility after 31 December, when the rules become ours to set (under WTO, of course).

However, would this money be better spent on developing zero-emission infrastructure for coach and bus?

The end goal is zero and so this would make a lot of sense. But we would miss out on significant emission savings that could come from biofuels or further hybridisation. This is where the TDP will shed light on whether we do all and everything we can to reduce emissions, or plan for and focus our energy on the end goal, which is zero-emission for all.

Coaches and buses ‘should be exempt from any road user charging’

Another idea that is being bandied around the Transport Decarbonisation Plan is road user charging, which has the potential to support modal shift towards coach and bus. As we move away from diesel and petrol, so does a significant amount of tax leave the Treasury. One way to make up for this shortfall is to charge road users based on distance. A pay-as-you-go system.

If set up correctly, coaches and buses would be exempt due to their low emission impacts, making the mode more affordable when compared to private travel.

This system, combined with charges for Clean Air Zones and Scotland’s Low Emission Zones (and eventually, zero emission zones) could push even more people towards high occupancy vehicles, which is what we so desperately need to meet our net zero target.

This joined up thinking is hopefully already being done. It is then down to strong political actions to make it a reality. One easy political action is to end the sale of something in the next parliament. I expect diesel buses to feature sometime soon on the ‘end date list’ – maybe even before 2030…