Despite coach transport being the greenest way to move passengers today, coach operators are increasingly confronted with diesel bans preventing their access to cities. The road transport industry is committed to think beyond diesel but city authorities must recognise that forcing operators to renew their diesel fleet with alternatives will take time. Urban access rules can only contribute to decarbonisation and less congested roads if they encourage more collective transport, including by coach, as part of the solution.
The new Coach of the Future report, published by IRU today, analyses the different alternatives to diesel becoming available to coach operators from an environmental and economic perspective, and assesses the conditions needed to accelerate the shift to greener fuels.
Coach travel represents 40% of the EU collective road transport activity. Some 400,000 coaches in Europe travel regularly on motorways and non-urban roads, covering distances of 500 km per trip on average. The fuel used to power those coaches therefore needs to be suitable for long-distance journeys and the charging and refuelling infrastructure needs to be readily available.
The IRU Coach of the Future report identifies that bio-LNG, HVO blends and diesel-electric hybrids represent more sustainable options that are, or soon will be, technologically available. To make these solutions commercially viable, efforts must however be made to overcome the main barriers to implementation, namely the high costs of investment in new vehicles and the lack of suitable infrastructure. One thing is clear though: battery electric vehicles are ruled out for long-distance coach transport services owing to their range and battery constraints.
Obstacles could be lifted in the near future through the implementation of policies backing the roll-out of alternative fuels infrastructure, subsidies for the purchase of cleaner vehicles, and the review of energy taxation and road user charging legislation. This would create a stable and predictable environment that would enable and encourage operators to invest in cleaner vehicles.
Matthias Maedge, who is leading IRU’s activities in the EU, commented: “More and more cities are introducing bans on diesel vehicles and coaches are being unfairly caught up in those initiatives, despite already being part of the solution to pollution and congestion. The sector is more than willing to play its part in supporting greener cities, but for the moment it has no obvious alternatives. Sufficient time must be provided to ensure that greener vehicles are available on the market, suitable infrastructure is fully developed, and policies supporting fleet renewal are in place before pushing ahead with blanket diesel vehicle bans.”
The Coach of the Future report shows that, if all the required conditions are met, the European coach sector could replace half of its existing diesel fleet with bio-LNG, HVO and diesel-hybrid vehicles by 2035 at the earliest.
Mr Maedge added: “The business of coach operators relies on the possibility to pick up and drop off passengers in city centres. Rushed bans would only result in negative costs for society and transport operators, with a resulting detrimental effect on the environment.”
City authorities must therefore recognise that there are limited technology and fuel options available for trucks and that such alternatives are still non-existent for coaches.
IRU remains committed to playing its role in the dialogue between the various parties in search for optimal solutions in the common interest of EU citizens and the road transport industry alike.