Is the ownership model broken?

The signs are going up; there appears to be no turning back. Those coach operators hoping for a late reverse gear from the mayor of London on the introduction of the ULEZ scheme in April may be dismayed to see that TfL has started erected signs to warn drivers that it is on its way.

I have heard many coach operators argue that their representatives, and specifically CPT, should have argued more vigorously on their behalf, but we need to recognise that the coach industry voice is just one among many, and the evidence now available about the impact of urban air pollution on health is very convincing, especially to politicians who need to maintain public support.

Who wouldn’t want clean air, and who can argue against it? As a new grandparent of a child living in London, I too have a real stake in wanting the cleanest possible environment for my granddaughter to grow up in.

The real challenge for coach operators, of course, is how to respond to the ULEZ schemes, and all the others which will inevitably emerge across the UK. Retrofitting older Euro vehicles is expensive even where it does exist as an option. To date, only one system has been approved, for the Volvo B9. And the retrofit situation just got even worse with the news that the Energy Savings Trust has removed CVRAS accreditation, at least for the present, from one company which had been supplying bus retrofit systems and claiming to offer a coach solution.

Caveat emptor – buyer beware – as always is crucial.

And even if you can fund a fleet upgrade to Euro 6, how long does that work for? Operators are now beginning to worry about the whole model that has underpinned most small and medium sized fleets given that the second-hand value of their assets can be wiped out with the stroke of a legislative pen. It may be time to look again about the efficacy of owning those assets, with all the uncertainties about future value, against the option of leasing as a potential protection in the wake of ever-tightening environmental requirements.

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