Major cities are increasingly introducing urban vehicle access regulations, including for example bans on diesel vehicles, in order to tackle air quality and congestion issues. For this reason, on April 25, 2019, the International Road Union released its study on the Coach of the Future. The study, commissioned to ISINNOVA in 2017, provides an overview of the most likely alternatives to diesel in the long-distance passenger transport industry, with specific reference to the coach sector.
These alternatives are necessary as in 2016, on the occasion of the C40 meeting of urban leaders in Mexico, several major cities made the political commitment to ban diesel vehicles from their territories in the next ten years. These developments are very concerning for the coach transport sector, as commercial vehicles are often the primary victims of these bans. Despite the willingness of coach operators to shoulder their responsibilities and make their activities as efficient and environmentally friendly as economically possible, there are simply no viable alternatives to diesel vehicles presently available on the market.
In addition, the business of coach operators relies on the possibility to pick up and drop off passengers in city centres. Sudden and untimely bans, that is, by 2025-2030, in the absence of any viable alternative to diesel for the long-haul coach tourism market, would have a dramatic impact on the tourism and intercity coach services.
When assessing the different alternatives to diesel, bio-LNG emerges as the option with the lowest abatement costs and most manageable barriers, with the infrastructure being the key remaining issue. HVO has medium abatement costs due to higher fuel costs but is still a promising option considering the high level of technology readiness and infrastructure availability. Resource availability is one of the key barriers to its increased usage but can be overcome as advanced bio-fuels are mainly produced with wastes and residues, with low supply constraints. Finally, alternative propulsion systems offer significant benefits but uptake in the short-term is hampered by high vehicle acquisition costs and lack of sufficient battery technology.