Zemo: ‘Zero-emission minibus incentivisation still possible’

Zero emission minibus incentivisation still possible

In Zemo Partnership’s Bus Working Group we often identify issues that may present challenges to existing policy, thanks in part to testing and certifying buses on behalf of government incentive schemes. One example was the early use of diesel-fired heaters on battery-electric buses to extend range and how that clearly contradicted the idea of an electric bus being ‘zero-emission’.

By highlighting the issue, quantifying the emissions impact and engaging with manufacturers, we now have a market where all battery-electric buses offered in the UK today have a zero-emission heating solution.

Zero-emission move ‘a trade off’ bus minibus part of dialogue

The shift to zero-emission has presented another challenge in the trade off between passenger capacity, battery weight and range. As more batteries are added to the vehicle, they use up space and weight tolerance. This issue affects both battery- and hydrogen fuel cell-electric buses and it has impacted double-deckers as well as smaller buses.

This has led us to the debate around ‘what is a bus?’ and how we define that in relation to our certification schemes. Should a bus be defined by its size or shape? Or should it be defined by the services it provides? Or a combination of both?

The definition has become most important for smaller buses, where battery weight and size has reduced passenger capacity significantly compared to the equivalent diesel models.

ZEBRA direction follows previous policy work

Historically, we have adopted the definition of a bus as having a passenger capacity of 22 or above from EU type approval definitions used for licencing drivers, Euro standard emissions testing and so on. This definition separates big bus from minibus (nine to 21 passenger capacity), and it was adopted 10 years ago when bus funding incentives were first conceived.

The reason for this separation was not only type approval and licencing, but also that policy wanted to encourage people onto fewer larger vehicles to prevent increases in congestion.

The Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas funding scheme in England has continued this focus on supporting larger vehicles. That is primarily down to value for money with heavier passenger movements, higher mileages and greater greenhouse gas and air quality improvements.

The number of registered PSVs also backs this focus up in relation to local bus services. There are 38,000 buses in Great Britain on registered local bus services compared to 1,500 minibuses. With only 760, or 2%, of those 38,000 buses that are zero-emission, there is a clear need for supporting the transition of these vehicles given limited budgets.

Interest in bus ‘Uberisation’ from DfT is growing

However, with falling bus patronage and shrinking budgets, the appetite for smaller vehicles has been growing. There is interest from the Department for Transport (DfT) in the ‘Uberisation’ of buses, with a greater appetite for demand-responsive travel. The Rural Mobility Fund is a key example of this.

The challenge now is for us to align different parts of DfT to ensure that the right incentives are in place to support greater zero-emission vehicle uptake in all areas of bus services, including minibuses as well as coaches. We will continue to engage with all stakeholders through our Bus Working Group to ensure that we support industry decarbonisation as quickly as possible.