With the recent commitment by the Scottish Government to phase out the sale of new petrol and diesel vehicles by 2032, fleet managers across Scotland, not least in the social housing sector, are being challenged to plan ahead so they can play their role in supporting the transition to a low carbon future.
The ambitious announcement would see the Scottish Government achieve the target eight years ahead of its UK counterpart. But critics have been quick to raise concerns that it won’t be possible to put in place the necessary charging infrastructure in such a short space of time.
Nicola Sturgeon and her Government remain confident they can meet the 2032 deadline and expand the country’s charging networks by creating “electric highways”. The first real test of this will be plans to make the A9, the country’s longest road, the first fully electric-enabled transport route in Scotland.
Over the last few years, government has been pushing various incentives, such as the Low Carbon Transport Loan, to encourage individuals and businesses to switch to Ultra-Low Emission Vehicles (ULEV), with varying degrees of success. In this context, the real issue facing Scotland is less about infrastructure and more about whether we can accomplish a mass switchover of around 3 million vehicles currently on Scottish roads in just 18 years.
If there is any hope of reaching this goal, the Scottish Government will be looking to those responsible for managing larger vehicle fleets to take the lead as a means of making quick and easy wins. Given the specific environmental responsibilities they face, public sector organisations in areas such as housing are likely to be high on the Government’s list of early adopters when it comes to modernising their fleets.
Alongside action to tackle climate change, plans are also in place to implement Low Emission Zones across Scotland’s four largest cities. This will empower local authorities in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Dundee to set environmental limits on key transport routes in order to improve air quality. At this stage, it is unclear exactly what shape these changes will take or how quickly they may come into effect. However, given the negative impact of poor air quality on public health, there is widespread speculation that the plans look set to be “fast tracked”. This creates a further impetus for fleet managers to grasp the nettle sooner rather than later and to switch to ultra low emission vehicles to prevent future fleet management costs from spiralling out of control.
At the same time, the cost of electric vehicles continues to come down as manufacturers gear up for mass production. Industry analysis suggests that the point where the overall costs of running an electric vehicle dip below those of running a conventional petrol or diesel car is fast approaching – and likely to arrive well before the Scottish Government’s 2032 timetable for going electric.
Given policy moves now underway at a local and national level, planning ahead has never been more important for fleet managers in the Scottish social housing sector. Acting now to modernise vehicle fleets will enable the housing sector to demonstrate its green credentials. But investing now to modernise vehicle fleets should also reduce the long term cost of running those fleets – and avoid a last minute rush to switch to electric vehicles that could end up costing the sector a lot more.
Stephen Herriot is Head of Operations at PfH Scotland, who have just launched a dedicated vehicle leasing and fleet management procurement framework for the social housing sector. More information about PfH Scotland and the new framework is available at http://www.pfhscotland.co.uk.