We know diesel HGVs have to go – but what are the options for coaches?
The year 2040 will be a momentous occasion when the sale of new diesel HGVs will be banned in the UK. It’s generally agreed that if we don’t take action we’re heading for climate catastrophe. Therefore, the announcements from COP26 earlier this month come as no surprise.
The death penalty to the diesel engine was the easy part, the big question for commercial operators is what will replace it and will we be able to continue to serve our clients? And the other question – what will happen to our stranded diesel assets?
It’s easy to lump coaches with bus operators, who despite some teething problems have already started the process of electrification of their fleets and rolled out new vehicles courtesy of some generous subsidies. But despite both coaches and buses carrying passengers, that’s often where the comparisons end; we have far more in common with our friends in the haulage sector which is why we came knocking at the RHA’s door desperate to be let in.
The difference between buses and coaches
Why are we different? An electric bus will carry out a set route each day – the mileage rarely changes and the infrastructure is in place with rapid charge points at depots and terminus facilities. But coaches – just like trucks – are generally used far less predictably. Each day will mean different mileage, hours in service or the destinations visited.
Like hauliers, we visit some of the most remote destinations and travel across the country. But the infrastructure is not there yet to support our operation to go electric. I doubt it will ever be feasible to have rapid charging points in the Scottish Highlands, Cornwall and the Brecon Beacons to stock up power for our coaches and trucks.
So what’s the answer? Unless battery technology evolves at a revolutionary pace providing far greater range, that’s a no go for the majority of our operations and I can’t see a network of overhead cables creating a trolleybus-style system for commercial vehicles. Indeed, I can only see at this stage hydrogen being a suitable way forward for both truck and coach.
Much of the UK’s research into hydrogen and production is carried out at Daresbury Laboratories and Ineos: both of which have large facilities near our depot – we’re in Runcorn, Cheshire. We have a chance for the UK to become a market leader in this field and I will be watching developments in hydrogen technology with great interest.
The clock started ticking at COP26 and despite 2040 seeming a distant date it’s a highly ambitious target and my fear is that we may have to settle for technology that is not sufficient, and we will be pigeon-holed with the buses despite hydrogen being the answer for us.
All dressed up but nowhere to park
Have you ever felt like the unwanted guest at a party, or when the nightclub bouncer says you can’t come in? Well, that’s the problem that the coach industry faces when we take our passengers to destinations: we’re often unloved and unwanted with nowhere to go… it’s like a Christmas nativity scene – we just need a guiding star.
Like our friends in the haulage industry the ‘destination’ wants what’s in our vehicles, in our case passengers spending lots of money in local shops and restaurants. But many coach parks have been sold for redevelopment and the options for suitable parking areas are decreasing.
None worse than London. The West End has been heavily impacted by the pandemic, with a capital devoid of tourists, despite the Mayor of London encouraging Brits from across the country to visit. The problem is, if you’re bringing a coach to Theatreland you’ll be hard pushed to find a parking space.
Coach bays have been taken out, coach parks sold, and what parking remains is a king’s ransom; often this will be elsewhere in the capital, with long treks in slow-moving traffic, hunting a precious parking spot whilst burning more fuel and emitting more pollution.
Many coach operators have decided that it’s not worth the hassle and wont quote for trips to London. It’s become for a no-go zone for them, whilst others will build in the provision of parking fines and will literally park at any kerbside with a spare fifty-foot stretch.
For city centres such as Manchester we drive to nearby industrial estates and park up… At times it’s beyond a joke and its certainly not funny.
Some destinations such as Blackpool welcome the value we bring to the local economy and provide free, ample coach parking, but when you head to areas of the Cotswolds and Cornwall it’s a different story.
Councils can do more
In the short-term, local councils could identify spots where they could relax parking restrictions for commercial vehicles, with a simple book-in procedure. There are plenty of places that could easily accommodate coaches without endangering safety if restrictions were relaxed.
For example, when the Millennium Stadium hosted cup finals, Cardiff City Council realised how integral coaches were to the logistics of the event and would lift restrictions to accommodate us. They even provided skips for rubbish and a slurry truck to discharge coach toilets – all free of charge!
Long-term the answer could be within our biggest challenge of all – decarbonisation. Fuelling and recharging facilities are going to be needed for commercial vehicles so why not at the same time combine it with a truck and coach park? This could be a place where our drivers will be welcome… We don’t ask for much – a decent café, washrooms, a place to wash our coaches and trucks, and perhaps a drivers’ rest room would be nice – if reasonably priced we won’t mind paying either.
Until then along with trucks we will forever be nomads looking for a stable to sleep in for the night and some wise men to provide the answers.
Richard Bamber | 26th November 2021
Managing Partner at Anthony’s Travel
On the website https://news.rha.uk.net/