This February the European Council and the European Parliament will adopt a new directive on the promotion of clean energy and energy efficient road transport vehicles. It will most crucially impact the procurement of public vehicles by operators and organising authorities in the road industry. Its impact on public transport is likely to have knock-on effects for road-charging schemes throughout Europe as well road traffic management going forward.

The aim of the directive is to introduce environmental aspects into procurement of public road vehicles to create a market for alternative fuels and reduce pollutant emissions. But the costs of implementing the standards of this new framework will impact the price of future public transport and in doing so will influence other EU policies on road traffic management.

I met up with Ulrich Weber, expert at Union Internationale des Transports Public – a worldwide organisation that represents the views of more than 3,000 members – to hear about how the directive was going down across Europe. Although he agrees with its aims in principle, Weber says that for clean technology to be pushed forward EU politicians need to complement top-down measures with practical ways of helping the industry implement their policies.

“The costs of implementing the standards of this new framework will impact the price of public transport.”

Natalie Coomber: Do you agree with the legislation coming into enforcement in the EU or do you think the drive for cleaner technology should come from the industry?

Ulrich Weber: Our original position was that we would have preferred a voluntary approach. For many years our members and organising authorities have made a lot of effort buying cleaner vehicles already. We don’t see a problem with the directive coming in; I think it is a chance for the public transport industry to show that it is already a clean business.

The directive says that when you are purchasing vehicles you have to specify in your tender documents that the manufacturer has to give information on energy consumption of vehicle, on the CO2 emissions and the pollutant emissions.

NC: When will it become mandatory?

UW: Parliament adopted it on 22 October 2008 and linguistic specialists from the council are now looking at it in detail. Depending on when the text will be published, it will then be 18 months until the transposition. But our members can put these specifications in their tenders voluntarily from now on.

NC: Is there funding, grants or subsidies to encourage firms to buy the most advanced technology?

UW: It is not written in the directive and it is something that we have regretted a lot. According to the commission they had two main objectives; on the one hand they wanted to improve air quality and reduce CO2 emissions but on the other they wanted to boost new technologies.

We believe that without having incentives they will not achieve this. Many of our members are interested in advanced technology, especially hybrid buses. There is a big programme in London for instance to buy these and similar programmes in Germany. The more of them that are bought the lower the price will become because of economies of scale.

To reach this step we believe that there should be incentives applied because the clean technology is still at a considerably higher price. A normal standard diesel bus, 12 metres long, has a cost of about €200,000 and a hybrid vehicle is at least €100,000 more expensive.

NC: Do you think it will happen outside of the directive?

UW: We are recommending to member states that when they transpose this directive they put in some kind of incentive, either tax reductions or direct funds to help operators purchase these vehicles.

“A normal standard diesel bus, 12 metres long, has a cost of about €200,000 and a hybrid vehicle is at least €100,000 more expensive.”

But those kinds of funds are only available in a very few member states. What we are very aggrieved about at the moment is that public transport is not being included in the economic recovery plans throughout the EU. A very recent example is Germany where cabinet ministers decided to explicitly exclude public transport from the German economic recovery plan.

NC: Is the directive setting environmental guidelines that are very different from what is in place now?

UW: There are already standards in place such as the Euroclass standards which put limits on pollutants and there is an additional benchmark – Enhanced Environmental Vehicles – that is the most stringent standard we have.

We will have enough flexibility to apply the directive for different purposes. We have to take into account now energy consumption, CO2 emissions and pollutants. Energy consumption has always been an issue for us, particularly for cost reasons.

However, what we have seen in recent years is that older vehicles consume less energy than newer ones. For example, newer buses use much more electrical equipment because of air conditioning, electronic information displays and steering aids that all consume that wasn’t the case years ago.

NC: How do clean energy initiatives in rail sector compare with those in the road transport sector?

UW: In the rail sector there is a comparable directive to the Euroclass standard. But there is not a directive like this to buy specific vehicles with specific criteria.

Most of the railway is electric traction so the CO2 is produced in the electric power plants. Some of them have chosen more green energy sources but in the end the decision is not so much at the operators’ side it is more with the electricity supplier.