Examination of Witnesses (Questions 180
WEDNESDAY 19 APRIL 2006
Q180 David Howarth: I think you have
already mentioned the low carbon buses target. The Department
for Transport's target was 600 per year to be sold by 2012 but
apparently the number sold last year was 19. The number the year
before that was five, so I suppose there has been some improvement.
Could you elaborate on why you think progress in that area is
so slow? You talked about how London could use its purchasing
power to meet its particular target but nationwide this is not
going to get anywhere near the target if present trends continue.
Mr Evers: I think part of the
reason has been the emergence simultaneously of the various competing
types of technologies, so at the same time you have diesel hybrid
buses emerging, flexi-fuel buses that use a very high blend of
biofuels along with a lot of talk about the emergence of hydrogen
fuel cell buses as well. That has created a certain amount of
confusion as to what is the likely dominant technology in the
future for public transport operators. That has also created a
degree of confusion amongst manufacturers as to how much they
should commit to a certain technology to scale up their manufacturing
facilities so that they can provide buses at a cost-effective
price. In the wake of several trials that have taken place both
within London for hydrogen fuel cell buses and abroad for both
biofuelled and diesel hybrid buses there is far more certainty
around the robustness of various technologies and the likely timeframe
over which they are going to emerge. For instance, hydrogen fuel
cell buses are more likely to become more cost-effective and viable
in the 10 to 15 year timeframe whereas diesel hybrid buses are
far more attractive over the shorter term. As a result of that
I think you will see a more rapid acceleration of the number of
alternatively fuelled vehicles over the course of the next two,
three, four, five years and that number of around 600 buses per
annum is perhaps not overly optimistic by the time you get to
Dr Austin: There comes a point
where the manufacturers then start saying, "Yes, we will
do it". I think last week, or the week before, Wright Bus
in Northern Ireland announced that they were going to gear up
to produce their hybrid buses on a larger scale. Obviously they
feel there must be a commercial rationale for them to do that
and once companies such as they start doing it that will gradually
increase production, et cetera, and customers will come. I think
600 is possible.
Q181 David Howarth: You do not see
any need for regulatory change or any other change of policy,
it is just a matter of the market sorting out the standard, a
bit like Betamax against VHS?
Ms Dedring: For sure some kind
of stronger stick type of mechanism to incentivise the take-up
would be a good thing and not a bad thing. Because of the rising
fuel prices bus operators may have a greater incentive to look
to hybrid buses more than they have in the past because they are
still about 50% more expensive than regular buses. If you were
looking at it from a pure cost standpoint it depends on the fuel
price whether or not that breaks even from a purely market driven
perspective. Certainly I think it would be worth considering whether
it is something to be done. In London we are definitely thinking
about what we can do to ramp that up. As Mark was saying, the
discussion about hydrogen fuel cells has somewhat compromised
that discussion because you think if that is coming along is it
worth converting the bus fleet to hybrid in the interim? It depends
how long you think the interim period is going to be and how long
it is going to take for a lower emission technology to come along:
"If it is 50 years we had better do something now, but if
it is 10 years maybe we should wait for the alternative technology".
That has been another area of confusion.
Q182 David Howarth: What about the
Bus Service Operators Grant? Would not a technology neutral way
of approaching this be to reform that to incentivise investment
in low carbon buses in general? Have you discussed this with the
Department for Transport? If so, what have they said?
Ms Dedring: As I understand it,
what we have discussed with them has been based not on an environmental
perspective or a CO2 perspective but from a pure operational
standpoint. We have sent a submission to the DfT but on that basis
only where the discussion was around whether it should be based
on passenger kilometres or not which has a knock-on impact on
CO2 as load factors increase. Certainly that would
have an impact and you could imagine various ways of restructuring
that to have an impact on take-up. Again, the rebate only dilutes
the impact that fuel prices are already having.
Q183 David Howarth: What was the
response of the Department to your suggestions?
Ms Dedring: I do not think there
has been one as far as I am aware.
Dr Austin: It was part of their
Q184 Mr Caton: Continuing with something
you have already raised, and that is the subject of hybrid buses,
I understand you have recently started running a number on your
route 360. What is your evaluation so far in terms of reliability,
carbon emissions, costs, including running costs, passenger satisfaction
or, indeed, any other yardstick you might be using?
Mr Evers: To be honest, I do not
think that has been consolidated as yet. It is a very recently
commenced trial and I am not aware of the details of that at this
particular point in time. There has been no adverse impact at
all but I would not like to comment specifically on any of those
at this stage.
Q185 Mr Caton: Are you assessing
Mr Evers: Yes. It is being assessed
on an ongoing basis but I am not in possession of those figures
at the moment.
Ms Dedring: Certainly once we
formed the view that the lags in terms of a larger scale adoption
would be signalling to the manufacturers that there was a certain
volume to be purchased, and also flowing that through the contract
structure we have in London, you would be talking about a three
or four year lag time in terms of getting those significant volumes
of hybrids out on to the street. It is worth mentioning that New
York has just purchased 300 or more hybrid buses following a trial
they have done and the upshot was the maintenance and running
costs were slightly higher but that is what you might expect with
a new technology and those were expected to bed down and be similar
to the existing bus fleet. They have had a very positive experience.
Q186 Mr Caton: Is there anything
more that the Department for Transport could be doing to encourage
the take-up of hybrid buses both in London but also across the
rest of the country?
Ms Dedring: Yes is probably the
short answer. We have not really thought carefully about what
would be the best mechanism in order to do that. One could stipulate
a certain percentage of the fleet to be hybrid. Certainly hybrid
technology is highly appropriate for a bus fleet type of environment
because hybrid technology declines in its CO2 effectiveness
if you are talking about longer haul travel. Buses which travel
in an inner city environment that idle at red lights is where
hybrid technology particularly shines. Certainly for bus and taxi
fleets there is a very strong argument for pushing for those to
be converted to hybrid in their entirety really and it is a nearly
proven technology unlike some other fuel types and other technology
types where the kinks are still being ironed out. It does deliver
a significant reduction in CO2 emissions without compromising
performance substantially compared to if you look at the fuel
cell buses which are still very expensive and there are a lot
of complexities associated with getting hydrogen into the depots.
It is much more complex and much more expensive by orders of magnitude.
Q187 Emily Thornberry: Is not one
of the other advantages that are seen not just the reduction in
CO2 emissions but also the fact that they are quiet
and particularly on some busy roads they could make all the difference?
My question is if you are going to introduce them elsewhere will
you be thinking of introducing them on main roads? The A1, for
example, through Islington would be one that I would recommend
Dr Austin: There would be an argument
for them on the minor roads so they do not wake people up. The
only other issue is that London is a slightly differently contractual
regime for buses in the sense that Transport for London can say,
"These are the buses we want" whereas outside London
it is effectively the operator who can decide what is best for
them from a financial perspective. Whatever the DfT will need
to do they will have to take that issue into consideration.
Ms Dedring: There is an interesting
knock-on effect if we purchase a significant percentage of our
fleet as hybrids. Because of the desire to keep the fleet in London
quite new and modern looking to preserve that quality impression
that Kevin was alluding to earlier, those are resold on to other
parts of the UK in many cases so you would have a spill-over effect
more broadly into the UK if they were adopted into the London
Q188 Mr Vaizey: I think you were
mentioning hydrogen fuel cell technology at the end of one of
your answers just now. You have got three hydrogen fuel cell technology
buses. Could you tell the Committee a bit about what your experience
has been using those?
Mr Evers: Those buses have been
trialled over the last two years. Over that time their operational
characteristics have been monitored quite closely and it would
be fair to say that over that time period we have seen an improvement
in the performance of those vehicles as we have got used to how
they operate. There are still some minor operational issues around
the range of some of the buses, the amount of power that they
have on certain routes, so they would be more applicable to some
routes in London than others. Certainly our experiences to date
would suggest that when the technology becomes cost-effective
hydrogen fuel cells would be a viable technology to use for buses
in London and other urban environments.
Q189 Mr Vaizey: That has been a similar
experience in other European cities that have been trying these?
Mr Evers: That is correct.
Q190 Mr Vaizey: We are not going
to see hydrogen fuel cell buses imminently being used. Is the
barrier to that growth Government support into research into hydrogen
Mr Evers: I do not think that
would be the barrier. The barrier is the technology itself has
not been developed sufficiently. It is not so much throw more
money at it, but technologies take time to bed down to discover
the problems that need to be solved and we are on a long road
to bedding down the technology and making it more effective. For
instance, some of the hydrogen fuel cells are still very, very
large to provide the sorts of ranges that you need in certain
areas so that means it is not particularly suitable for certain
bus configurations, double-decker buses et cetera. We are slowly
moving towards that. As manufacturers start to see more and more
moves towards the use of hydrogen fuel cells both within transport
and also in other applications the cost-effectiveness will become
more attractive and we will start to see that kicking in.
Q191 Mr Vaizey: The reason I mention
Government funding is because I think in your memo you expressed
concern about how we research funding for hydrogen fuel cell technology
and how the different programmes can work together. Is there a
problem in terms of joined-up research?
Ms Dedring: I think it is a component.
The problem is that a lot of these technological issues are really
quite significant so more than 50% of the problem is not the grant
issue. Mark was telling me this morning that withdrawal of government
grants from certain types of technologies has created confusion
in the market. That kind of thing is highly unhelpful when you
are trying to develop new technologies. It is clearly a component
but from an operational standpoint and just looking at the market,
how long it will take to become viable technologically and from
a cost standpoint, the estimates vary widely but I have not seen
anything that sounds feasible that is less than 10 to 15 years
away and possibly very much more than that, 20 or 30 years away,
which is why my personal view is that looking at some kind of
alternative for the medium term is really critical.
Q192 Mr Vaizey: Would one of those
be biofuels? Could you talk a bit about how you are using biofuels?
Mr Evers: Yes. Biofuels can be
used in either low blended proportions or high blended proportions.
In blends of up to five to 10% you do not need to make any modifications,
or very minor modifications, to the vehicles that are operating
using that. Obviously you see a proportionately lower CO2
benefit as a result of that. Stockholm has indicated their shift
towards moving their bus fleet to 100% E85 fuelled vehiclesthese
are buses operating on biofuels which comprise 85% biofuel and
15% fossil fuel derived petroleumby 2020. There are countries
that have significant experience in this area already and they
have demonstrated that biofuels are an alternative that need to
be considered so long as the source of the feedstock for those
biofuels and the manufacturing process in order to produce them
has CO2 benefits.
Q193 Mr Vaizey: Is this part of your
strategy as well?
Mr Evers: It is one of the areas
which we are looking at to see whether or not it offers something
for London, yes.
Ms Dedring: The best thing about
biofuel is that it is not an alternative, you can use it in conjunction
with hybrid technology and in conjunction in low blends with the
existing buses. It is not an either/or decision.
Mr Evers: You can take the example
of Scania, the vehicle partner of Stockholm Transport, who are
in the process of developing a biofuel hybrid bus at the moment
which again demonstrates these technologies can be used in parallel.
Q194 Mark Pritchard: If you are looking
for feedstock there are plenty of Shropshire farmers who would
be very happy to put their supply of sugar beet for biofuel production.
My small, but hopefully not insignificant, question is this: can
you recycle spent fuel cells, the actual piece of kit? Are they
Mr Evers: To be honest, I am not
100% sure. I am sure the components of it could be recycled but
I do not know whether or not 100% of the fuel cell itself could
Q195 Mark Pritchard: What is the
average life not of the actual cell which we fuel or we charge
but the hardware that it fits in and the overall framework, as
it were, that it sits in? What is the lifespan of that? Where
have the ones that have already been spent gone? Can they be recycled?
If not, can you drop the Committee a note?
Mr Evers: I think it would be
better if we could come back to you with the facts.
Q196 Mark Pritchard: It would be
quite an interesting and perhaps fascinating paradox to have fuel
cells that were recyclable trying to reduce carbon emissions.
Ms Dedring: It is a similar issue
to the question about where do you get the energy that is producing
the fuel cells because if they are highly CO2 intensive
then you do not want to do that either. It is a common misconception
that hydrogen fuel cell is zero emission but it is not if you
take the well to wheel type of approach with fuel cells, if you
take the whole lifecycle. It can be a bit of a misleading type
of technology where people think, "Ah, problem solved, no
Mark Pritchard: A bit like windmills
without wind being powered by electricity. Thank you, Chairman.
Q197 Mr Vaizey: I want to ask about
taxis. You have made it pretty clear that taxis should be moving
to hybrid technology. Could you talk a bit about the contribution
of taxis to carbon emissions in London and what moves you are
making to try to move taxi drivers into low carbon vehicles? I
have noticed there is one minicab company that is now touting
the fact that it is using the Toyota Prius. Do they get any additional
grant, subsidy, let-off because of what they are doing?
Mr Evers: The contribution of
taxis and private hire vehicles to London's CO2 emissions
is around about 4% of the total transport related CO2
emissions. That comes to something of the order of 400,000 tonnes
of CO2 annually split around 50/50 between the Black
Cab fleet and private hire vehicles. It is a reasonably significant
contributor to transport CO2 in London.
Q198 Mr Vaizey: In terms of the minicab
operator and whether or not they are receiving any additional
Dr Austin: That was a minicab
operator in Hammersmith, I think, and Toyota have given them five
initially and they are looking to increase up to 50. As far as
I know they are not receiving any incentives but we could find
out. The fact they are using new vehicles, the Prius, is quite
a good selling point for them and that could encourage people
to use them, so it is a good commercial decision.
Q199 Mr Vaizey: My main point is
whether there is any programme to try to move taxis in general
to low carbon technology?
Ms Dedring: Not at the moment.
Because the Mayor has expressed a strong desire to do something
more aggressive on the whole climate change agenda we are looking
at a whole range of things that we should be doing differently
potentially and that is internally in progress. In principle that
is the kind of thing we can do. The advantage is because of the
licensing regime we have some tools to do that. It has been used
to get the taxis to adopt the new standards of euro engines in
terms of air quality. There are definitely tools at our disposal,
unlike with private vehicles where there is not very much we can
do short of using the Congestion Charge or parking fees.
Dr Austin: That is probably what
we will be concentrating on, to reduce the PM10 emissions from
taxis which in central London is about a quarter of all those