10 December 2009 | UK | Issue 222
Green Bus Fund booster
The Green Bus Fund awards could give hybrid buses the push they need, both to help bring costs down and to convince operators that the new technology really works. Which, as we know from elsewhere in the world, it does.
One of the encouraging features of the funding is that it hasn’t all gone to big operators. Bids from small fleets demonstrate a real drive to see the new low-carbon technology being used in the widest possible range of operating environments, from urban London to rural Cumbria, and by a wide range of operators, from family businesses to multi-nationals. That’s a good outcome.
The £30million fund will support the purchase of 349 buses, including at least 55 battery-electric vehicles. It will be some months before all the orders are signed and sealed, but early indications are that most, if not all, of the battery buses will be built by Optare, while Alexander Dennis appears to be taking the lead in hybrids. But there’s still a lot to play for, including over 100 buses for Greater Manchester and London.
The two biggest winners under the award were the Greater Manchester PTE and Transport for London. TfL – currently the UK’s only operator of hybrid buses – has secured £5million to procure 46 low-carbon buses. It says that the choice of makes and models will depend on the results of tender awards, suggesting the field is clear for operators to make their own purchasing decisions. These will undoubtedly be influenced by the performance of the hybrids currently on trial in the capital.
Greater Manchester has identified that it will be buying 20 hybrids for the Manchester city centre free bus network, currently run by diesel Optare Solos, 16 hybrid yellow school buses, and 30 hybrid single-deckers which it will make available to operators for use on tendered services.
When you add to the PTE’s 66 hybrid buses 30 being purchased by Stagecoach, 14 for First and four for small operator Bullocks of Cheadle, there will be 114 hybrids in service in the region. This puts Greater Manchester just ahead of London, which should have 108 hybrids in operation when the Green Bus Fund vehicles are delivered. The buses for Bullocks – to be ADL Enviro400Hs or Volvo B5TLs – will be dual-door double-deckers to increase capacity on its service between Piccadilly Station, the University and Manchester Royal Infirmary, currently run by single-deckers.
Stagecoach will in total be taking 56 hybrids – 30 for Manchester and 26 for Oxford. These will be ADL Enviro400H models to be delivered between July and October next year. First, on the other hand, has chosen Volvo to supply the 36 hybrids it has ordered – the 14 for Manchester plus 22 for West Yorkshire. It is expected these will be bodied by Wrightbus, First’s preferred body supplier. However where Stagecoach’s hybrids should all be in operation in less than 12 months, First says that the vehicles it has ordered will be delivered over three years. Bearing in mind that Volvo has only built one batch of B5TLs and is using a technology which is untried in the bus industry, it could be that First wants to evaluate the initial six – earmarked for the Scothall Road bus corridor in Leeds – before committing to the remaining 30.
ADL will be supplying at least 86 Enviro400H hybrid double-deckers through the government’s Green Bus Fund – 56 for Stagecoach, 20 for Reading Transport and ten for National Express West Midlands. That equates to 25 per cent of the 349 vehicles for which funding has been approved, with major orders from Manchester and London still to be placed.
In Reading the Enviro400H hybrids will replace Scanias which currently run on ethanol but are in the process of being converted to diesel to save money. Reading has evaluated an Enviro400H which, says the company’s chief executive, James Freeman, “impressed in every regard”.
Says Freeman: “There are a number of hybrid buses on the market, and the ADL Enviro400 seems to be the best of these. A batch of these buses has been operating in London over the past year and performing very well indeed.
“We recently trialled one of these buses on Premier Route 17. It impressed everybody including drivers, passengers and workshop staff. Very significant features of these buses are exceptional fuel consumption - for a modern double-decker bus - of 7mpg or more and an extremely smooth ride.”
National Express is splitting its hybrid order, with ten Wright Gemini 2 HEVs being delivered alongside the ten Enviros. Rotala’s 23 vehicles are understood to be mainly double-deckers for operation in the Bristol area, and it is anticipated that these will be supplied by ADL.
The awards also encompass 13 smaller operators and local authorities, including Ipswich Buses which is to receive two hybrids from two manufacturers – one Optare Solo and one ADL Enviro200.
While the hybrids are being used for mainstream bus services, the battery-electric buses are generally being selected for niche operations with less demanding operating cycles.
So far it is possible to identify at least 48 electric Optares, with the biggest user being Cumfybus, taking 11 for operation in Liverpool and two to serve Edge Hill University in Ormskirk. Nexus, the Tyne & Wear PTE, and On a Mission Coaches of Leighton Buzzard are each planning to take six. The Nexus vehicles will be for a new cross-city service in central Sunderland. Those at On A Mission Coaches will be used on a shuttle service for Milton Keynes College, which was keen to enhance its green credentials by having the current diesel buses on the contract replaced by electric. They will also be used on local service in Milton Keynes – and possibly on Buckinghamshire contracts as well.
Where Optare has been promoting the Solo EV as its battery-powered bus, On A Mission wants to order Versas, as does Milton Keynes council, which has separately secured funding for three battery buses for a local service in the city. Nottingham city council plans to buy four Solo EVs to replace diesel Solos on the city’s free Centrelink service, introduced earlier this year with diesel-powered Solos, operated on the council’s behalf by Trent Barton. Mike de Courcey Travel is taking three Solo EVs for a park-and-ride service in Coventry, while Johnsons of Henley-in-Arden plans to take four to replace diesel Solos on a park-and-ride service in Stratford-on-Avon. There is also the probability of nine electric Solos for Hatch Green Coaches in Taunton.
Pete Johnson, operations director of Johnsons, speaks on behalf of a number of the successful Green Bus Fund bidders when he sounds a note of caution. Says Johnson: “I must emphasise that this project is at a very early stage, we have a while to take advantage of the grant and much work to be done beforehand, including operating trials, viability studies and further discussions with interested partners including Warwickshire county council.”
Many of the winners submitted bids based on data supplied by one or more vehicle makers, but without the opportunity to evaluate the hardware.
That ADL, Optare, Volvo and Wrightbus have emerged as key suppliers of low-carbon buses is no great surprise. But one unexpected name in the frame is Egyptian builder MCV, which is to supply 10 hybrids to Mike de Courcey, a long-standing user of MCV bodies on MAN chassis. MAN does not have a hybrid in its range, but de Courcey promises more details of the project later this month.
Whether the awards protect 1,000 manufacturing jobs, as the government claims, is open to debate, but the funding is still good news for Britain’s bus makers all of whom, unsurprisingly, welcomed the news.
“Any stimulus to a manufacturing industry which is short of orders at the moment is welcome news and it shows how the industry in general has risen to the challenge of delivering CO2-efficient solutions” says Wright Group managing director Mark Nodder. “Our strategy of developing our own technology, as well as working with Volvo as part of their hybrid vehicle development, will put us in a good position both in the current and any future funding rounds.”
Optare anticipates the Green Bus Fund will support £12million-worth of orders for over 70 low-carbon buses. Jim Sumner, Optare’s chief executive, says: “We are delighted to have received this financial support from the Green Bus Fund. It means that major cities across the UK will be showcasing ultra low carbon or zero emission Optare vehicles and enjoying strong environmental benefits at the same time. This will be a boost to our order book in 2010. All of our stakeholders can take pride in this news which underlines our position as a leader in zero emission green bus technology.”
Transport minister Sadiq Khan says that the Green Bus Fund award secures jobs. “It will give UK bus manufacturers the certainty they desperately need to allow them to keep their skilled labour force and continue to lead the way in green innovation. Let’s be clear: doing nothing is not an option. Tackling vehicle carbon emissions is a question of when not if, and it’s initiatives like this which will deliver the change we need.”
The jobs are clearly important in the short-term, but the real test of the Green Bus Fund will be whether or not it has a long-term influence on both the costs of hybrids and on their widespread acceptance by operators.