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. However, the switch to alternative fuels and technologies cannot be effected without a considerable State investment in supporting refueling infrastructure.
In order to meet our commitment under the National Development Plan to cease purchase of diesel-only buses from July this year, a decision was taken by the National Transport Authority (NTA), which is responsible for procurement of vehicles in the public service obligation (PSO) fleets, to purchase hybrid-electric buses in the short term. Hybrid bus technology acts to reduce transport emissions without the need for costly supporting infrastructure to be made immediately available. This enables the fleet replacement and fleet expansion necessary to support rising travel demand to continue uninterrupted; it also ensures that our longer-term procurement decisions will not need to take into account potentially hasty investment made in short-term infrastructure. Care must be taken to avoid investment in technologies which may be suitable for our current, but not our future public transport needs.
The Climate Action Plan sets out a clear commitment that, by the end of 2020, the first one hundred low-emission buses will have entered the urban bus fleet. Also, the NTA will prepare and publish a medium-term fleet technology pathway for the urban public bus fleet by year end, in line with the commitment set out in the Climate Action Plan. The findings of the Low-Emission Bus Trial are expected to inform this decision, taken together with ongoing market analysis and public fleet procurement requirements under the EU Clean Vehicles Directive. My Department will continue to engage closely with the NTA on the development of this longer-term procurement strategy, which will see our public transport sector become steadily cleaner and greener in the coming years.
Notably, the Clean Vehicles Directive at EU level will oblige Ireland to incorporate zero-emission technologies, such as fully electric or hydrogen, into the bus fleet as we move towards 2030, and consequently consideration of electric buses is ongoing. Indeed, and as I have mentioned, the findings of the Low-Emission Bus Trials show that electric buses performed strongly across a range of metrics. In addition, hybrid-electric 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, our air quality and increase our use of renewable energy in transport.
It is, however, important to note that double-deck full electric models were not available to trial and that these results refer to single-deck electric vehicles. There are a number of reasons for this; notably, right-hand drive vehicles (which Ireland would need) represent only a small part of the EU market, which can limit the number of suppliers and manufacturers open to us.
Furthermore, given our rising travel demand and the predominant role of the PSO fleet in our public transport system, double-deck buses are the most appropriate vehicle type for Irish circumstances. The articulated single-deck vehicles deployed in various continental cities, which do not offer the same ratio of standing to seating passengers, are not a suitable alternative due to these capacity concerns. While fully electric single-deck buses have been commercially available for some time, electric double-deck pilot models are only now becoming available. Up until this year, Transport for London (TFL), which operates a fleet of about 4,000 vehicles, had just two electric double-deck buses in operation. I understand that TFL is currently in the process of acquiring a further 68 electric double-deck buses that will be deployed on two specific routes for in-service performance monitoring and evaluation. It is worth noting that Irish bus routes tend to be long and that battery capacity for fully electric vehicles may be a concern. However, it is expected that battery capacity will further improve over the next few years, making it feasible to fully transition to electric vehicles at that stage.
While we await the development of higher battery capacity double deck bus fleet, the approach the NTA is pursuing is to begin the electrification pathway by purchasing diesel-electric hybrid vehicles.