Britain is ready for the green bus transition, says Volvo Buses

The president of Volvo Buses believes an open standard that doesn't lock cities into contracts with individual suppliers could prove vital in accelerating the uptake of low-carbon buses across the country, and is calling on new stakeholders to engage in the conversation.

Speaking exclusively to edie this week, Volvo Buses president Håkan Agnevall said the UK is well-placed to champion the electrification of public transport, and revealed that his company is partnering with one of the world’s largest producers of energy-efficient infrastructure, Siemens, to promote engagement with the transition.

“We view electro-mobility and electric bus systems as the future of transport in cities,” Agnevall said. “But one of the biggest changes will be the need for new stakeholders to engage with the dialogue. We need the infrastructure in place, as well as the electric supply, so this brings councils, operators and utilities to the table.

“This is a movement that we believe in, and one of the cornerstones of our aims is that we are willing to take overall management responsibilities for installing the infrastructure and putting the electric bus system into place. To deliver on this, we’ve got partnerships with the likes of Siemens to provide this offering.

“We acknowledge that a city investing in this cannot afford to be locked-in with one supplier. It needs to be an open interface and we are trying to create an open standard with Siemens to facilitate the transformation.”

Biggest shift

Agnevall, who was speaking ahead of a debate on how electric buses would cost-effectively improve Leeds’s transport infrastructure, claimed that improvements to transport could one day reach the point where silent and zero-emission buses could tranfer people into hospitals or shopping malls due to the minimal impact they would have on the surrounding environment.

For Volvo Buses – which has a 40% market share of the bus system in the UK – this vision will only accelerate once the message that the electrification of transport is cost-effective and environmentally beneficial has been fully developed.

“This will be the biggest shift in public transport in decades and we’re only at the start of this change,” Agnevall said. “Sustainable transport covers finances, low-emissions and social perspectives – it’s a balance.

“While the initial investment to purchase an electric vehicle is higher, a look at the lifecycle cost reveals that, not only does it have a capacity advantage, but the costs are significantly lower. Cities need to decide how to progress public transport to create a sustainable city, and we think we have an answer.”

Volvo Buses already runs a 1,000-strong fleet of hybrid buses in the UK capable of reducing emissions by 30%, and Agnevall claims that hybrid and plug-in hybrids would form a crucial part of the transport system in order to optimise routes outside of inner-cities where infrastructure may prove too costly.

But in order to install this infrastructure, Agnevall believes an open standard that brings numerous suppliers – of vehicles, utilities and construction companies – will be essential to ensure that the transition fits in with city budgets.

London’s calling

With future projections suggesting that half of all European city buses will be electric by 2020, Volvo Buses has called on stakeholders to actively take part in the conversation to ensure that cities can meet new low-emission vehicle targets that are beginning to come into force.

Agnevall’s call arrives just days after London Mayor Sadiq Khan and Transport for London (TfL) unveiled the first nine new electric buses that will operate in the capital. A 51-strong fleet of single-decker electric buses will bring London’s total fleet to 73 in the near future, making it the largest in Europe.

From next February, Putney High Street – which regularly breaches diesel pollution limits – will be the first route to exclusively use hybrid or diesel buses equipped with anti-pollutant systems that meet or exceed Euro VI emission standards.

In total, around 450 buses in England will be fitted with green technology to cut harmful emissions by up to 90%, as part of a £7m funding award by the Department for Transport.

Matt Mace

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