IRU: realistic debate with cities needed about Coach of the Future

The new Coach of the Future report, published by IRU, 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. 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.

According to the IRU 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. 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 IRU says 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. IRU emphasizes that 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 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. 

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. 

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.

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