"Costs for electric transport are tilting"
164 electric buses in concession the Netherlands

In the Netherlands the Groningen-Drenthe concession in the northern part of the country has recently been awarded. A large contract that generates approximately 1.1 billion euros in turnover. The ten year contract is awarded to operator Qbuzz, winning the tender. In total 164 electric buses and charging facilities have to be bought, also fuel cell buses and information technology. It is the first contract where so many electric buses are due to get on the road the same time.

In this interview director of the public transport agency Groningen-Drenthe Wilko Mol explains how the transport authority has set op the tender. Mol is in function since only six months. He calls it a 'cost contract'. The operator has offered an hourly rate and that's it. The tender was set up in such a way that only the means of transport, degree of service and the timetable were described. The purchase of the buses is entirely up to the carrier. The revenue responsibility lies with the public transport office Groningen-Drenthe. “The risk is therefore smaller for the carrier, making it an attractive contract. Within this calculated hourly rate, the carrier must do everything, including the purchase of the new buses”, explains Mol. And that is no less than 164 electric buses, which will be supplemented by 20 fuel cell buses in 2020. They will replace the same number of diesel buses running now. The remaining diesel buses, approximately 180, will then be fuelled with HVO (Hydrotreated Vegetable Oil). “It is important to meet the criteria in this cost contract that the carrier must do everything in his power to ensure that public transport runs as smoothly as possible in a daily implementation with every day clean buses, friendly drivers, punctual according to the timetable and without failure. That is now the focus." Qbuzz is developing an app for this, the Q+app, in which maps, books, payments and travel guidance are integrated. The intention is that the customer is easily guided through the system and barriers are removed. The driver can see the information provided via the Q+app, for example about arrival times of the bus on his dashboard in the bus. The same data files are used for this.

Zero emission

In the light of the energy transition the zero emission concept in transport demands its place. The approach of the tender was therefore that the city services in the cities Groningen, Assen and Emmen, all covered within the contract, would become zero emission. In addition, at the start of the new concession in December this year, four intercity Q-link lines will become electric. The other Q-link lines are electrically phased-in during the concession. In addition, all remaining diesel buses will switch to HVO. Together this results in a CO2 reduction of 90 percent compared to the current concession. Mol states: “The government bodies here in the north of the country have an intrinsic motivation to put the energy transition into practice. With this effort, we are already achieving the climate goals of Paris. The concession is also clear about the origin of the electricity: it has to come from Dutch windmills and in time it has to be produced only by windmills in the northern part of the Netherlands.”


In terms of fuel cell and hydrogen, with this concession transport authority Groningen-Drenthe is also making progress. There are already two Van Hool hydrogen or fuel cell buses in the region that can refuel with hydrogen at the filling point in the northern city Delfzijl. A tender for a second filling station in the city Groningen is currently being conducted. This filling point will be placed in the bus depot owned by the public transport office. With this new filling station there must be sufficient coverage to provide 22 fuel cell buses with hydrogen. Part of the project is financed with three million euros from the European JIVE II project. In addition, the province and the public transport office each invest 1.5 million euros. In total it concerns an additional investment of nine million euros. With the acquisition of the concession, operator Qbuzz has committed itself to purchase 20 hydrogen buses. But it doesn't stop there. Mol: “We are already working on the follow-up to get another 10 fuel cell buses on the road in the province of Drenthe. In addition to the huge electric fleet of 164 buses, we will also have a mega fleet of 32 fuel cell buses for the current public transport world.”

TCO tilts

The investments to be able to drive electrically, and in particular the electrical infrastructure to supply such large fleets with electricity, are depreciated over the duration of the concession. The TCO, Total Cost of Ownership, is said to be the same as or slightly more expensive than an equivalent diesel fleet, according to OV-bureau Groningen-Drenthe. Mol states that the new concession provides the same amount of transport and that the hourly price paid to the transporter has not risen due to this energy transition. “You can now see that the costs for electric transport are starting to tilt, while the reference timetable of 2017 was the basis for the bid."

Opportunity and overnight

In terms of charging, use will be made of 'opportunity charging' for the Q-link lines, 59 Heuliez buses, and 'overnight charging' for the city services. The regional buses, 60 Ebusco's, are also charged via a plug. The 45 city buses that come from VDL do, however, have a pantograph to be able to use a charging station on the road if necessary. Mol admits that the mix chosen in the concession makes it clear that the transport company and the public transport agency do not yet know which system is the most optimal for which type of transport. “It may be that in five years time a battery may offer a range of 500 kilometres, which makes recharging via 'opportunity charging' no longer necessary."

Permits infrastructure

What is also special about the concession is that after the duration of this concession the buses that Qbuzz now purchased will be transferred to a possible new concession holder, as will the charging infrastructure. Made possible by lease constructions. OV-bureau Groningen-Drenthe, the public transport office, offers support with regard to the construction of the electrical infrastructure. This concerns city planning and the electrical network. “Of course, the necessary permit processes must be followed to realize charging facilities in public spaces. To make electric transport possible, 26 charging locations must be installed, including six in the parking facilities. Permits have already been issued for most locations."

Public Transport Agency Groningen Drenthe

The Groningen-Drenthe public transport agency partnership combines several governing bodies from participating cities and provinces. Mol sees it as a bus company without buses and drivers. “One of the tasks of the public transport office is to further develop the bus concession from the revenue responsibility. It has to improve every year, both in terms of timetable and sustainability. This is possible through the digital developments and the data that the public transport office collects. Inherent to the revenue responsibility of the public transport agency you have to look for opportunities to increase the revenue. That must be the focus. We are now proceeding from obtaining and possessing the necessary information to information-driven work in terms of management, development and marketing."

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