Boost for electric buses in legislative race against time

The European Parliament has given a boost to the take-up of electric buses, with a vote that strengthens the bus chapter of the European Commission’s Clean Vehicles Directive. But with elections to the parliament due in May, it is now a race to get the directive approved before the legislative process would have to start again. T&E has since published a report showing that total cost of ownership of e-buses is now almost at parity with diesel buses when health external costs are included.

The Clean Vehicles Directive is currently being updated to accelerate the transition to clean publicly procured vehicles, including cars and trucks. With more than 95% of EU urban areas suffering poor air quality, much of which comes from diesel buses, the Commission suggested the directive should set targets for member states to meet on what percentage of their new bus fleets are low- and zero-emission. It proposed these targets would start from 2025, with stricter targets from 2030.

Last month, the full parliament voted to strengthen both the deadlines and the targets. Its vote said the percentage targets should be met by 2025 and 2030, not after those dates. And it said there should be more ambitious targets for zero-emission and biomethane buses. While each country’s targets are different, the vote calls for between 43% and 75% of new buses to be ‘clean’ vehicles by 2030, and for 25-50% of cars and vans.

T&E’s clean vehicles officer Yoann Le Petit said: ‘This vote sends the right signal, but for the directive to effectively drive the e-bus market and encourage the use of cleaner buses, it is crucial that it be adopted before the end of this parliamentary mandate. The main priority now is for national governments to get things moving to reach at least a general position before the end of the Austrian presidency. This will be a challenge given how slow member states are progressing, but the success of a measure to significantly improve air quality and climate-changing emissions in Europe’s towns and cities depends on it.’

Despite welcoming the vote, T&E was critical of the MEPs’ decision to align the definition of ‘clean fuels’ with the EU’s Alternative Fuels Infrastructure Directive definition. This allows for fossil-fuel gas (both LNG and CNG) and advanced biofuels to qualify as clean, even if they emit almost as much CO2 and NOx as diesel Euro-VI buses.

Since the vote took place, T&E has published a report on e-buses, which shows that fully electric buses only account for 9% of urban bus sales in Europe – despite being cost competitive with diesel buses on total cost of ownership (TCO). TCO has become an important measuring mechanism for e-vehicles, as they are still significantly more expensive than conventional vehicles but their running costs are vastly lower.

Based on owning a bus for eight years, electric and diesel buses are already nearly at parity on pure costs. When the health costs imposed by air and noise pollution are included, they are now at parity; and if climate costs are added, e-buses have a lower TCO than diesel buses.

T&E’s e-mobility analyst, Lucien Mathieu, said: ‘Electric buses are the superior choice in every respect now. They have no tailpipe emissions, and they’re quiet, comfortable and economical. If mayors, regions and transport authorities are serious about tackling the air quality and climate crises, the only rational decision is to buy electric buses from now on, or set the price framework for them to be the most attractive buy.’