The transport group has been working on a number of initiatives that aim to boost the environmental credentials of bus travel

Go-Ahead will operate a fleet of 127 full electric buses in London by March 2020


Go-Ahead Group believes that it is doing more than any other UK bus operator in de-carbonising its bus fleet. The group is working hard to examine all of the emerging powertrain technologies to find tailored low, ultra low and zero emissions solutions for the communities it serves.

Go-Ahead takes the threat to the environment seriously because, whatever happens, it will have a big impact on its business. At its head office in London, group corporate services director Dave Golding is currently studying the impact of two different climate change scenarios – a two degree celsius increase in global temperatures and a four degree increase.

Restricting the increase to two degrees will require significant government inventions to limit carbon emissions, and this will bring many new regulations to the bus industry. Golding says that the big question will be “Who is paying for this compliance?”

A four degree increase will meanwhile bring more frequent occurrences of extreme weather, and that will impact heavily on the group’s transport operations. “We have seen that with ‘the Beast from the East’, which cost us quite a lot of money,” Golding explains. Sub-zero temperatures, flooding and high winds will disrupt transport services, but there are other ways that climate change will add to costs. For example, as summer temperatures soar, Golding suggests that bus operators may have to install air conditioning on their buses in the UK. Go-Ahead already operates many air conditioned vehicles in Singapore and has observed the impact that this has on fuel consumption and operating costs.

Go-Ahead is conscious that the decisions it makes today must be future-proofed. Embodying this approach, Go North East’s £3.5m new depot in Consett, County Durham is A-rated for energy efficiency. “We are never going to build another bus depot unless it is carbon neutral,” says Golding

This forward thinking also applies to the group’s 5,000-strong bus fleet. When considering the purchase of new vehicles, Golding asks himself: “What does that mean for us in 2030? I am buying buses today that will be in the fleet in 2030.”

Go-Ahead is investing in new Euro 6 diesel buses, which are responsible for fewer local emissions than a Euro 6 car despite having 15 to 20 times the capacity. But it’s also looking at a range of full electric, extended range diesel/electric hybrid and hydrogen powertrains.

Rather than one technology becoming dominant, Golding foresees a whole range of solutions co-existing in order to suit different operating circumstances. For this reason he would like manufacturers to produce modular vehicles that can be easily, serviced, adapted and upgraded.

There has to be some incentive. If it’s just down to the operator then it’s unaffordable.

These technologies aren’t cheap – so who is going to pay the price for this new generation of more expensive but cleaner, greener vehicles? “It’s a big old question,” says Golding. “There has to be some incentive. If it’s just down to the operator then it’s unaffordable. An electric bus is twice the cost, if not more, and then there’s the infrastructure costs … The incentives need to be there to do the right things.”

London: Electric

Go-Ahead has attracted worldwide attention for its operation of electric vehicles on contracts for Transport for London. Go-Ahead London has the largest fleet of electric vehicles in the UK and its Waterloo garage was the first outside of China to go 100% electric. This changeover from diesel to full electric was made in just one year, on time and on budget.

Go-Ahead London engineering director Richard Harrington has observed the rapid evolution of electric bus technology over recent years. He recalls that when he visited the Busworld Europe show in Kortrijk, Belgium in 2011, there were three electric bus models on show. When he returned in 2015 there were 35.

He and his colleagues wanted to do a trial, but the manufacturers were all seeking to load their large research and development costs onto the contract. This was not the case with Chinese battery expert BYD, which had already supplied thousands of full electric vehicles to its home market. Their driveline performed well with Go-Ahead in service, and a partnership was then formed with UK bus builder Alexander Dennis to provide bodies for the vehicles. By the end of 2016, the garage was home to a fleet of 46 vehicles.

Electric vehicles are also being operated from other Go-Ahead London locations, and the 81 electric buses in service today will become 127 in less than one years’ time. Camberwell garage already hosts 20 electric buses for Route 360, and a further 11 will join them in October. Northumberland Park hosts 13 electric buses, with 23 more coming in August and a further 12 in March 2020. And there are also two electric buses at New Cross.

London mayor Sadiq Khan has decreed that all buses in London will be zero emission by 2037. Go-Ahead London has developed capabilities that will help with this transition, but Harrington says that TfL’s five-year operating contracts mean that long term investments are harder to make.

Going forward, he agrees with Golding. “There’s no one size fits all solution here,” he says. “There’s not one thing that will replace the diesel engine.”

Brighton: Micro hybrid

Reflecting its different operating and regulatory environments, Go-Ahead’s Brighton & Hove Buses subsidiary does not see full electric as the appropriate solution. The company’s engineering director, Steve Ambury, says that the range of these vehicles would not enable them to carry out a full day of duties without stopping to be charged. Furthermore, the switch to electric charging reduces the capacity of depots.

Brighton & Hove’s fleet is already comparatively clean. Two-thirds of vehicles meet the latest Euro 6 standards and the rest are Euro 5 – the minimum standard required by the Low Emission Zone introduced in the city in 2015. The council has observed some improvements in air quality that can be linked to the new cleaner vehicles, but traffic congestion has prevented the city from seeing the full benefits.

To help address the problem a £9.2m order has been placed for 30 extended range electric Euro 6 micro hybrid Enviro400H double deck buses, which are made by Alexander Dennis and BAE Systems. They will be the first of their kind in the UK. These buses have an electric motor which drives the bus at all times – and a small diesel generator which tops up the battery. Regenerative braking provides most of this topping up of energy.

The new buses will be introduced at the end of August on Route 5, one of the city’s busiest bus routes, which serves areas including Hove, Hollingbury, Hangleton, Preston Park and Patcham. They will use geofencing technology to switch to full electric mode when passing through the city’s Ultra Low Emission Zone. During this time the generator does not operate so there are no local emissions.

Crawley: Hydrogen

Go-Ahead is also examining fuel cell technology. In February, Brighton & Hove and sister company Metrobus secured £4.3m under the government’s Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme towards the purchase of 20 zero emission fuel cell buses and the associated infrastructure. These single deckers will be introduced on Metrobus’s 24-hour, high frequency ‘Fastway’ services to and from Gatwick Airport and Manor Royal Business District in Crawley.

An order has yet to be placed, but the company is looking to go with a UK-based manufacturer. They are currently waiting for the eighth generation of fuel cell technology to come in, but the vehicles are expected to enter service in the second half of 2020.

Ambury believes that these vehicles offer the quick and easy refuelling of a conventional diesel bus – but they only emit water. With so many vehicles operating 24 hours a day and on long routes, he says that Brighton & Hove would have to double the size of its fleet and recruit many more drivers in order to accommodate today’s full electric vehicles. That isn’t a problem with fuel cell buses.

“It’s great to see it coming to fruition,” he says. “You fill up the buses like you would a diesel. It just makes perfect sense to us.”

This article brought to you in partnership with Go-Ahead Group.

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