Wednesday, 2 October 2019

Questions (51)

John Curran


51. Deputy John Curran asked the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport the details of the findings from the low-emission bus trials; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39773/19]

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Oral answers (7 contributions) (Question to Transport)

Trials of low-emission buses have been conducted. Will the Minister give an overview of those trials, the types of buses that were trialled and the outcomes regarding their effectiveness and range? Particularly from the point of view of Dublin, where air quality is of concern, what improvements could we expect from making a transition to these low-emission vehicles?

The movement to low-emission urban buses is central to the promotion and normalisation of cleaner fuels and technologies.  A major shift to cleaner alternatives across the entire transport sector is necessary if we are to reduce harmful emissions.

I am sure the Deputy recognises that the emissions savings potential from the urban bus fleet alone is limited because buses account for less than 3% of land transport emissions.  That is why I am also maintaining a strong focus on expanding the carrying capacity of our public transport system over the coming years.  That is how we can really help address the largest sustainability challenge in the transport sector, namely, shifting more journeys from private motoring towards suitable alternatives in public transport and active travel. 

I assure the Deputy that we are on a clear pathway to low-emission urban buses. Implementing our commitment in the national development plan since this summer, Ireland is no longer buying diesel-only urban public buses.  Dublin Bus has already taken delivery of six electric hybrid buses, with a further three expected to be delivered by the year's end. There is a clear target in the climate action plan for 100 low-emission buses to be on the road by the end of 2020.  The NTA has initiated a tender to award a framework contract for double-deck diesel-electric hybrid buses.

The bus trial compared a range of low-emission buses along representative routes in Dublin and Cork. It provided useful insights into which technologies might be most appropriate in an Irish context.  A comprehensive report outlining the findings of the trial was issued to my Department earlier this month and I have sent the report to the NTA for its consideration.  I have published a high-level executive summary of the findings of the trial on my Department's website in line with a climate action plan commitment, and I also intend to release a non-commercially sensitive version of the full report before the end of the year.

In summary, the results from the trial show that electric buses performed strongly across a range of metrics.  Electric-hybrid technology, where deployed in conjunction with certain biofuels, also emerged as a potentially viable alternative, as did biogas.  The overall results suggest that electrification represents a feasible option for fleet transition that could help us to tackle our carbon emissions, improve air quality and increase our use of renewable energy in transport.

Additional information not given on the floor of the House

  However, it is important to note that fully electric double-deck models were not available for trial and that these results refer to single-deck electric vehicles.  Indeed, electric double-deck models are only slowly becoming available.

The NTA is reviewing the outcomes of the trial and these, together with supply and operational considerations, will feed into the NTA's development of a medium-term fleet technology pathway for the urban public bus fleet.  That strategy is due to be brought forward by the NTA by the end of the year.

I am sorry the Minister did not start at the end of his reply instead of the beginning, which had nothing to do with the question I asked. I specifically asked about the bus trials. He was getting to that when time ran out. I specifically want to know whether fully electric buses were included in that trial. They are being trialled in many other European cities. Alternatively, was the trial restricted to hybrid buses?

Second, if we move from full diesel to diesel-electric hybrids, which are the buses currently on trial, what will be the net reduction in our carbon emissions? I was disappointed when the Minister indicated that from July 2019 we would no longer buy all-diesel buses, but then bought diesel buses at the start of that year and effectively pushed the decision on hybrid vehicles into next year. This is important because the Minister's influence is not confined to Dublin Bus and buses in the national fleet. The Government's actions impact on other purchasers and can make electric or hybrid buses the norm, rather than what they are at the moment. Perhaps the Minister might comment specifically on the trials.

I will provide the Deputy with some more information. The trial compared 15 different bus models of different technology types across a range of parameters. Fully electric, hybrid electric and compressed natural biogas models were tested alongside two exhaust-retrofitted diesel buses. The buses were assessed for CO2 and air pollutant emissions, energy efficiency, cost and infrastructure requirements. Trials ran from December 2018 to April 2019 in Dublin and Cork. The two primary objectives of the trials were to implement a method of testing which would be repeatable and would provide a fair means of comparing different technologies. The findings of the trials have taken us a considerable way towards clarifying our longer-term trajectory for low-emission buses, with electrification identified as the preferred technology. It is important to note that bus procurement is complex. While reducing carbon and pollutant emissions is a key priority for this Government, a range of factors must also be considered when determining the most appropriate alternative to diesel buses.

We did keep our promise about July. The Deputy should not say we did not.

The buses bought before that time were low-emissions diesel vehicles.

That promise was kept but it was not done in an upright fashion. The announcement was made that from July there would be no further purchases of diesel buses but diesel buses were bought before July so there would be no demand for the rest of the year. What vehicles are being committed to now? Will they be hybrid electric, full electric or both? The Minister has indicated that next year there will be 100 of these low-emissions vehicles bought. How will this translate to carbon reduction and will there be a specific impact on air quality in Dublin? As the Minister knows well, that air quality is now at a level that is inappropriate and unacceptable. Will the Minister clearly indicate if the vehicles to be trialled and rolled out over the coming years will full or hybrid electric?

I thank the Leas-Cheann Comhairle for facilitating me and I welcome the question from my colleague. The National Transport Authority, NTA, announced it was to purchase 600 hybrid diesel vehicles but it seems the jury is out on that. The Minister said the preference is for electrification of the fleet, so how can the NTA indicate it will purchase 600 hybrid diesels in the coming years when we do not have the full results of testing? Hydrogen is used as a power source for buses in Scotland and Brussels but the Minister has not mentioned it. I have read some reports on the effectiveness of hybrid diesel buses in London and many of them are running fully on diesel because the system is not effective. I take the Minister's point about the complications in this regard. How can the NTA state it will purchase 600 hybrid diesel buses when the jury is out on what system would be most suitable for Dublin transport?

Deputy Curran spoke about the buses that were bought. The Deputy is correct that before July, the NTA placed an order for Euro 6 standard diesel buses as part of its long-term fleet replacement and expansion programme. Euro 6 technology is the greenest diesel option and these buses will be deployed to replace the oldest and most polluting Euro 3 and Euro 4 standard models in the fleet, with consequent improvements to levels of air pollutant emissions. It is worth noting a switch to alternative fuels and technologies represents a considerable State investment in supporting infrastructure. We are absolutely determined that there shall be no more diesel-only buses and we will keep that pledge.

In the short term, we may move to hybrid buses but the medium-term procurement strategy has yet to be finalised. Electric buses are scarce and my Department sought to source a hydrogen and double-deck electric bus for assessment as part of the trial but was unable to do it at the time of testing. These options may not currently be commercially feasible in the right-hand drive market. However, the potential for the deployment of zero-emission hydrogen or double-deck electric buses should not be discounted as technologies and markets are developing apace.