Denmark has the most zero-emission urban buses on the roads in Europe, with electric buses making up 78% of its new vehicles, according to the latest data from Transport and Environment (T&E), a green NGO. Luxembourg and the Netherlands were close behind with around two-thirds of new buses emitting zero emissions.

‘Urban bus fleets drive millions of kilometers every year. If we want to decarbonise our cities, these vehicles must become emissions free as soon as possible,’ said James Nix, freight manager at T&E.’Nordic states, Luxembourg and the Netherlands are showing how to put e-buses on the road. Other countries, especially those buying a lot of buses, like Italy, Spain and France, and those at the very start of the transition, such as Austria, need to step it up,’ he added.

Both Austria and Ireland had no zero-emission urban buses in 2019, while Switzerland and Greece had less than 4%. These countries will have to rapidly increase their efforts to meet the minimum share of zero-emission buses decided at EU level. At least a quarter of new public buses will need to be ‘clean’ by 2025, according to new public procurement rules agreed two years ago.

For buses, that means they must run off hydrogen, electric batteries (including plug-in hybrids), natural gas, liquid biofuel or synthetic and parafinnic fuels. In Sweden, Norway and Finland around a quarter of all buses registered in 2019 were zero-emission – either electric or hydrogen.

However, the six countries that buy 70% of urban buses sold in Europe – Italy, Poland, Germany, the UK, Spain and France – lag behind. In 2019, less than 10% of their newly registered urban buses were electric or hydrogen.Germany did take a significant step in 2020, now financing 80% of the higher purchase cost of e-buses. Similarly, Poland announced that cities with populations of over 100,000 or more would have fully electrified transport by 2030, allocating €290m for this.

In a joint letter published in May 2020, four cities – Bonn, Brussels, Dublin and Milan – called for EU funding to support a post-COVID zero-emissions bus fund worth €3.5 billion.

‘Zero-emission urban buses help us combat air pollution, tackle climate change, reduce noise and cheaper total costs than diesel buses over their lifetime,’ said Nix. ‘EU member states must ensure the COVID recovery plans they are currently writing fund the replacement of fossil buses with zero-emission ones,’ he added.

In a report published on Thursday (14 January) comparing 13 case studies, T&E highlighted five key factors for the successful deployment of electric buses.

These include political leadership to increase cooperation and communication and financial support to maintain commitment and create integrated bus services. Successful cities also encourage effective trials and monitoring as well as innovative procurement as essential to bringing in zero-emission buses, T&E said.

In Danish cities for instance, success was due to a large extent on long-term contracts that reduce the financial risks for operators, cooperation between owners, operators and manufacturers and political support in the form of ambitious zero emissions targets.

‘As the technology improves, and the pressure to tackle air pollution and climate change heightens, the successful roll-out of e-buses across Europe will be a crucial component of transitioning to a more sustainable future,’ according to the report.

With the EU aiming to decrease emissions to net-zero by 2050, and tougher EU climate targets coming up for 2030, pressure will keep increasing for transport to decarbonise quickly.

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