Rollout of Zero Emission Buses in London

Questions to the Mayor of London – answered on 10th February 2022.

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Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

What role do hydrogen buses have in ensuring London has a zero emission bus fleet?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

I am committed to making London the greenest city in the world, moving to net zero by 2030. Transport has a big role to play in this, not least our bus fleet.

I am incredibly proud that there are already over 600 zero-emission buses currently in the TfL fleet, including 20 double-decker hydrogen-fuelled buses, which I launched on routes 7 and 245 last year. This makes London’s zero-emission bus fleet the largest in western Europe. We are aiming to reach 800 zero-emission buses by the end of this financial year in March [2022], and a fully zero-emission bus fleet by 2030 depending on Government funding. The buses we have in the fleet now are already helping to reduce TfL’s carbon footprint and further reduce harmful emissions, helping to ensure Londoners can breathe cleaner air.

Hydrogen buses could play a key role for TfL’s longer-distance bus routes for which battery-electric buses currently lack the necessary range. In general, hydrogen buses and infrastructure remain more expensive than electric alternatives, but hydrogen could be more commercially and operationally competitive on these longer routes. TfL is still assessing the total lifetime cost of hydrogen buses based on the 20 double-decker buses that are in service. However, the higher upfront cost of these buses and supporting infrastructure is a significant barrier to their wider deployment in London. While battery-electric buses are expected to form the majority of the fleet, hydrogen-fuelled buses could still make a smaller but important contribution to London’s zero-emission bus fleet in the future if their costs can come down. TfL remains open to both technologies.

The hydrogen fuel for TfL’s fleet is currently produced as a by-product from an industrial facility in Runcorn, but from 2023/24 TfL expects this to be replaced by truly zero-emission green hydrogen produced using wind power. As part of TfL’s wider work to make buses greener, by January last year all buses in its core fleet had been brought up to strict Euro VI emission standards following a retrofitting programme and the replacement of older buses with new ones. Now completed, this will see harmful nitrogen emissions from TfL’s 9,000-strong bus fleet fall by up to 90%.

I am committed to making all London’s buses zero-emission by 2034 at the latest. However, with the right support from the Government, that date could be brought forward to 2030, which would save an additional 1 million tonnes of carbon. Hydrogen could make a vital contribution to meeting this goal.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Thank you very much for your response. I appreciate hydrogen bus technology is in development, and I also understand TfL’s financial difficulties. You have invested £6 million in a hydrogen refuelling centre in Perivale. Why is TfL still running only 20 hydrogen buses when you have made that investment?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

That is all the buses we have. Are you asking why we do not buy more buses?

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Yes. Why are you not looking to expand hydrogen buses given you have made that investment?

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

Sorry. The investment we made was possible because of European Union (EU) funding. The EU gave us £6 million towards the buses. We gave another £5 million. The Government gave us £1 million. That came to £12 million. Without the EU funding, we could not do it.

The second important part of the equation was that we jointly procured with other cities across the country like Aberdeen and Birmingham. There were a number of cities across the country. With that joint procurement, the costs came down a bit. If we did 20 each, it brought the costs down.

The upfront costs of hydrogen are more expensive than electric. A hydrogen bus, roughly speaking, costs about £600,000 and an electric £400,000. That does prohibit going for hydrogen. We would want to buy more if we had the money to do. You will remember the way electric buses work is the operators buy them rather than us. It is a different model for hydrogen because we were keen to test these buses, particularly on double-decker routes.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Lovely. Your manifesto has a specific commitment to increase connectivity in outer London through improved bus networks. As part of the work you are doing in this area, will you review how hydrogen buses could play a role in outer London given their fast refuelling and their long range, which makes them ideal for those orbital routes.

Photo of Sadiq Khan Sadiq Khan Mayor of London

If you get a chance, you should go to one of the bus garages. The speed of refuelling is quite impressive and - you are right - they have longer ranges. The issue we have is the garages having the equipment to do it and having only 20 double-decker buses.

We are looking into, based upon the experience we have with these 20, whether for the longer routes, where electric batteries may not be as good, they would be a good way forward. We are also looking at the experiences of other cities as well and what we can learn from each other. We are keen, where we can, particularly, as I explained, we will have green hydrogen very soon, which is really exciting.

Photo of Caroline Pidgeon Caroline Pidgeon Liberal Democrat

Lovely. I look forward to seeing that develop. Thank you, Mr Mayor.