The Flemish government’s target of having all buses 100% emissions-free in town and city centres by 2025 is ‘unrealistic,’ according to the CEO of the public transport authority De Lijn.
Ann Schoubs, who is responsible for public transport in Flanders from the coastal tram that services the beach resorts to the buses that service the Limburg countryside, was speaking before the mobility committee of the Flemish parliament.
Achieving the target – which is part of the coalition’s governing accords, would require De Lijn getting rid of 70% of its fleet of vehicles, or 2,550 buses, she said. The reason why so many would be involved is simply the nature of the network, she said.
Buses that service mainly rural areas also, along the way, travel into town and even city centres. That means the bus needs to be emissions-free even if only for one or two stops on its whole route.
“Completely zero-emission travel, 100 percent, in the town centres by 2025, does not seem entirely realistic to us today in the current context,” she told committee members.
De Lijn does have plans to get rid of the oldest and most-polluting buses in its fleet, which would reduce total emissions by 78% by 2025. On urban lines those buses would be replaced by electric vehicles.
Schoubs stressed the need for hybrid buses as an interim measure. A hybrid bus would be able to switch to electrical power in a town centre, before switching back to diesel when travelling out of town.
At a later stage, hybrid buses could be transformed into fully-electric vehicles.
But mobility minister Lydia Peeters (Open VLD) is not to be budged.
“I think we need to remain ambitious,” she said .
“In December and January I wrote several letters to the board of directors of De Lijn to go the extra mile and to focus on the greening of the fleet. We have a huge backlog compared to neighbouring countries. But we can do it too. I have the impression that the message has been received well.”
Peeters suggests enrolling more independent contractors, who fill in on some routes as subcontractors.
“At the moment they are good for about 40 percent of the kilometres travelled. That could go up to 50 percent. So there is still room to involve them more. And they can purchase more flexibly.”
By coincidence, De Lijn sent out this morning an email stating its commitment to a fully emissions-free network – but by 2035, not 2025.
“Greener public transport: that is what we will be working on at De Lijn in the coming years. In this way we want to contribute to a modern and liveable Flanders,” the message reads.
“We have worked out an ambitious plan to do that. But sufficient investment resources are required to achieve our goal. That is why we asked for a stable financial commitment from the Flemish government.”
The plan involves reducing emissions from our bus fleet to zero. The plan also involves the use of hybrid buses.