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The LoCITY approach: an interview with Fergus Worthy

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We’re delighted to have spoken to Fergus Worthy as part of our ongoing series of interviews about alternative fuels. Fergus is a Project Manager within Transport for London’s Freight & Fleet team, with a special responsibility for their freight environment programme. As someone whose job is to reduce the impact of commercial vehicles on the environment, while making sure that London still gets the goods and services it needs, he’s full of insights for our readers.

1. PLEASE COULD YOU GIVE US A SUMMARY OF TFL’S LOCITY PROGRAMME?

LoCITY is TfL’s low emission commercial vehicle programme that is reducing emissions from vans and HGVs by helping fleets switch from diesel to alternative fuels. We know there is no single fuel that will replace diesel, so we are looking at all the options out there, such as plug-in vehicles and biogas.

2. WHAT HAS LOCITY ACHIEVED SO FAR? AND WHAT IS LEFT TO BE ACHIEVED?

Perhaps the biggest achievement is that we have secured support for LoCITY from a wide range of organisations, including trade associations, vehicle manufacturers, fleets, academics and environmental bodies. Our working groups are attended by senior fleet and policy decision makers, and are helping drive real change in the commercial vehicle market. We’re also coordinating work with other cities in the UK; we have had interest in LoCITY from cities including Manchester and Coventry, and we’re keen to share best practice from what we have achieved.

There is still a huge amount to be achieved – alternative fuels are still perceived as a niche technology for commercial vehicles by many fleet operators. There are huge potential benefits to be realised, both in terms of emission reduction but, in many cases, financial benefits as well. We know it’s only a matter of time until these technologies are widely adopted.

3. FROM AN ENVIRONMENTAL PERSPECTIVE, IS DIESEL THE BIGGEST PROBLEM THAT YOU FACE?

Older diesel vehicles are high emitters of NOx, which contributes to poor air quality. Euro VI HGV engines are much cleaner, and as more of these vehicles come into the fleet in London we will definitely see a reduction in pollution. However, burning diesel still emits CO2 and, as a city, we have a challenging target for reducing carbon emissions. We would encourage fleets to look at plug-in vehicles wherever possible, as they have zero tailpipe emissions. This may not be practical for heavier vehicles. However, there are fuels available now that offer substantial reductions in well-to-wheel greenhouse gas emissions compared to diesel, and we’d encourage fleets to look at these options when buying new vehicles.

4. HOW EAGER ARE FLEETS TO GO GREEN, IN YOUR EXPERIENCE?

It’s very mixed. Some are very keen; they see clear benefits to going green, either in terms of reduced operating costs or because they win more business by demonstrating green credentials. Others aren’t ready to make the switch yet. As with any new technology, there are early adopters that will try new vehicles and fuels first, while others will wait and see before investing. We think there are a lot of fleets that could be convinced by seeing independent, real-world data on operational, financial and environmental performance – this is something we are working to address as part of LoCITY.

5. WHAT KINDS OF VEHICLES ARE AVAILABLE TO FLEETS THAT WANT TO GO GREEN?

It’s been great to see the range of alternatively-fuelled vehicles on the market grow since we launched LoCITY just over a year ago. We have had plug-in vehicles on the market in the small van segment for several years, but we’re now seeing larger pure electric vans from several manufacturers coming to the market, as well as plug-in and extended range drivetrains. There’s also been an expansion in the availability of gas vehicles; run on biomethane, these vehicles can offer substantial greenhouse gas savings.

It can be confusing for fleets to keep up-to-date with new products from the different manufacturers and smaller players in the market. We have a Commercial Vehicle Finder tool on the LoCITY website, which keeps all this information in one place and helps fleets identify which technology might work for them.

6. DOES LONDON HAVE THE INFRASTRUCTURE FOR THESE VEHICLES?

It’s an old cliché, but it really is a chicken or egg situation. Increased availability of vehicles and of infrastructure need to happen in parallel. For fuels such as gas and hydrogen, infrastructure providers often face bigger investments with longer payback periods than fleets acquiring new vehicles.

We have good provision of standard electric charge points in London, and are working to roll out 300 rapid chargepoints by the end of 2020 to support commercial fleets and taxis. Other fuels, such as biomethane, are best used with depot-based refuelling, so fleets can run these vehicles without waiting for a public network to be available.

However, we know there is more to be done to improve infrastructure in London. I often hear fleets saying that they would invest in vehicles if more infrastructure was available, so the question is: why aren’t private sector organisations starting to install infrastructure? It doesn’t all have to come from the public sector. My view is that fleets and infrastructure providers need to collaborate to identify locations where charge points and refuelling stations would get the most use.

7. HOW BIG AN OBSTACLE IS THE UPFRONT COST OF ALTERNATIVELY-FUELLED VEHICLES?

Even for conventional vehicles, fleets should base their decisions on total cost of ownership rather than upfront cost. Many alternatively-fuelled vehicles are cheaper to run than a diesel equivalent, so the total of cost ownership can be attractive. Of course they typically also involve extra capital outlay which can be challenging for some organisations particularly in the public sector. However, leasing companies are increasingly offering rates for alternative fuels so organisations can spread the cost. For me, uncertainty over residual values is a greater obstacle than upfront cost.

8. WHAT OTHER CHALLENGES DO FLEET OPERATORS NEED TO CONSIDER WHEN GOING GREEN?

A big challenge for fleet managers is deciding which technology to invest in. There is no single technology to replace diesel in all applications; fleets need to select the right option for the specific vehicle and duty cycle. Understandably, fleets don’t want to end up backing the wrong technology.

A second issue is around driver acceptance – some drivers may worry that an EV won’t have enough charge for their route, or that it will be slow to drive. Through LoCITY, we are working to bust some of these common myths and provide impartial information about how these vehicles work and how to get the best out of them. This also comes down to how the vehicles are rolled out into the fleet; trial them first, selecting those drivers that you know will help get a positive experience from the vehicles before deploying them more widely, and use these drivers to act as champions to support others along the way.

9. WHAT CAN POLICYMAKERS, WHETHER LOCAL OR NATIONAL, DO TO HELP OVERCOME THESE CHALLENGES?

I think national and local policy makers can both be bolder in advising fleets about which fuels and technologies are best suited to different vehicle types and duty cycles. For example, there has been a lot of discussion about the potential for biomethane for waste and refuse collection vehicles. We are working with Millbrook to develop a city-centre waste collection duty cycle, so we can model the performance of gas relative to Euro VI diesel and other fuels. If the results are good, we should advise local authorities to pursue this option.

We are also working with Cenex and the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership on an online tool to help fleets assess the relative whole life costs and emissions performance of different fuels and technologies over different duty cycles. We expect this to be ready by the summer.

10. WHAT CAN OTHER CITIES LEARN FROM THE LOCITY PROGRAMME?

We have engaged with several UK and European city authorities who have taken a good deal of interest in LoCITY and TfL’s wider work on low emission transport. I think the biggest factor behind the success of LoCITY, so far, has been the engagement we have had with the industry – not just fleet operators, but also vehicle manufacturers, infrastructure providers, trade associations and local authorities. We recently supported a commercial vehicle event, and afterwards one of the delegates said: “Having that amount of people in the same room trying to solve the same problems has given us some real good thoughts.” I think that is a good summary of the LoCITY approach.

 

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