The ramifications of the Russian invasion of the Ukraine are being felt far and wide, across all levels of industry. The coach hire sector of course relies heavily on diesel fuel as a basic and essential need to function, and the conflict has caused prices to soar.
So what’s the solution? Will the hike in fuel prices hasten a switch to electric vehicles for coach hire companies? What are the practical implications of such a move? And are other options available?
“Russia’s invasion of the Ukraine has had a huge knock-on effect to oil prices, but we’ve also felt the impact in a number of other ways too,” explains Matt Clayson of Readybus Executive Coach Hire.
“For starters, fuel prices have increased by around 30% since the invasion began. For a coach hire company such as ours, fuel takes up 25% of our costs, so it’s a significant increase.”
That’s only one part of the problem, however.
“It’s affecting custom too, specifically when it comes to school transport bookings,” admits Matt. “Ukrainian and Russian schools that would normally attend Easter and Summer Language Schools – and these were big customers for us – have cancelled their bookings.”
Finally, the diesel engines of Matt’s Readybus coach fleet, and those of coaches in general, are required to meet strict emissions standards. This is only made possible thanks to certain industrial additives, with Readybus using an industry-leading additive called AdBlue. This is injected into the gas exhaust system of the engine where it causes a chemical reaction. The nitrogen oxide created by the coach’s diesel engine is converted into harmless water vapour and nitrogen: meaning that the resulting emissions are in line with Euro 6 emissions standards.
“The key component of AdBlue is Urea,” adds Matt, “and this is exported by, among others, Russia. Because of that, we’ve seen price increases of nearly 100%.”
Are electric coaches the answer?
So with the current situation pushing coach hire running costs to the limit, is a move away from diesel powered coach transport to electric vehicles a feasible option? With almost zero emissions removing the need for both diesel and AdBlue, a straight swap from diesel to electric coaches sounds almost too good to be true.
That’s because it is, says Matt.
“In its current form electric propulsion doesn't have the range needed for long distance coach travel. The necessary infrastructure for heavy vehicle charging (i.e. at service stations or tourist destinations) are non-existent across the UK at present.”
The thought of coaches running out of power before reaching their destination is both an impractical and unattractive one, and this is further compounded by the limited availability of electric coaches in the UK in the first instance. “Only one manufacturer of electric coaches currently exists in the UK, with only one model available on the market,” Matt points out. “I liken it to the UK electric car scene 15 years ago, when the Toyota Prius was the only option. I think that, in the coach sector, we are at least 15 years or more behind the car market in terms of making zero emissions a reality. There has been no set end of sale date for new diesel coaches,” he adds, “and there is currently a call for research and evidence to help shape the government's decision making on this.”