300 million investment, but no e-buses yet for De Lijn
This year, Flemish transport company, De Lijn, will invest more than 300 million euro in new buses, trams, extra services and infrastructure. The Flemish Minister for Mobility, Ben Weyts (N-VA), has announced this.
The budget – a record amount – will be used, among other things, for fleet renewal. For example, this year De Lijn is only ordering hybrid buses, while the Netherlands are substantially expanding their fleet of electric buses. Smart policy or a lack of ambition?
200 hybrid buses
The 2019 budget provides 93 million euro for the purchase of 200 hybrid buses and 46 million euro for the purchase of new trams, which will replace the old PCC trams in Antwerp. In addition, 41 million euro will be injected in the renewal of the tram network.
De Lijn will also renew various station environments. Those of Ghent-Sint-Pieters, Mechelen, Ostend and Hasselt, among others, will be given a facelift. Finally, targeted investments will also be made in additional offers. For example, 7,5 million euro has been made available to provide extra supply on busy lines from the beginning of the year.
The Cabinet of Minister of Mobility, Ben Weyts (N-VA), calls the greening of the bus fleet, as a result of the new investments, “never seen before” or “unprecedented”. Off all the buses De Lijn has ordered since 2014, more than half (58%) were indeed hybrid – both batteries and fossil fuels power these buses.
On the other hand, 40% of the buses purchased are diesel. Last year, 55 diesel buses were also purchased. Only thirteen of the buses ordered since 2014 are fully electric. Of the two hundred buses ordered in 2019, not one model is fully electric.
Big contrast with the Netherlands
The contrast with the Netherlands cannot be greater. There are around 350 emission-free buses, according to a count by Dutch consultancy agency Crow. Their number doubled last year, and it doesn’t stop there. Dutch bus manufacturer, VDL – with its factory in Roeselare-Belgium dedicated to electric buses – plans to supply another 150 fully electric buses in the Netherlands this year.
Not yet in Belgium
By 2025, only zero-emission buses will be allowed on the Dutch market and by 2030, no buses on Dutch roads will be allowed to emit CO2. In Germany and Scandinavia too, governments and transport companies are aiming for electric buses.
“Everywhere in Europe we now supply electric buses, but not yet in Belgium”, says Peter Wouters, general manager of the VDL branch in the West Flemish city of Roeselare.
Lack of ambition
The fact that De Lijn only chooses hybrid buses and not electric buses shows “an incomprehensible lack of ambition”, says William Todts, director of the environmental organization, Transport & Environment. In the city, where it is relatively easy to provide a good charging infrastructure, there is no reason not to opt for them.
“Especially if you charge the costs for the climate or for the health, due to air pollution”, explains Todts. “A hybrid is ultimately nothing more than a diesel that occasionally drives electrically. Research on city buses shows that hybrids sometimes consume barely 6% less fuel than the latest Euro 6 diesels. Not immediately a green revolution.”
One hybrid is not the other, Peter Wouters of VDL points out. “The hybrid buses ordered by De Lijn have an increasingly large battery”. According to the public transport company, in time they could even be converted into fully electric buses.
The high cost of e-buses is a stumbling block for De Lijn to already fully draw the electric card. “They are almost twice as expensive as a hybrid”, says spokesman Tom Van de Vreken. “And then you also have to install the charging infrastructure.”
Installing a charging station for an e-bus quickly costs 90.000 euro. On the other hand, e-buses cost less per kilometre driven and are cheaper to maintain.
For the time being, e-buses, including consumption and maintenance costs, are even more expensive than hybrids, says Wouters, although e-buses cost less per kilometre driven and are cheaper to maintain.
“Various governments are prepared to pay the difference in order to strike themselves a green pose and to play a pioneer role in e-mobility. The prices of batteries, however, continue to drop. By 2020, e-buses would be competitive in terms of costs. Then there is a tipping point.”
Full electric as of 2020
De Lijn and the Flemish government think so too. From next year until 2024, De Lijn will order another 1.002 buses and 925 of these will be full electric. “We prefer to do small experiments now”, says Van de Vreken. “Once the tipping point has been reached, we go fully electric.”