Zero-emission buses, particularly battery electric buses, will soon become standard for the vast majority of new mainstream local buses operating in Scotland. This will contribute to Scotland’s ambitious climate target of net zero by 2045.

This study explored how a move to battery electric buses (BEB) might impact the second-hand bus market, new buses, big and small operators in Scotland. It also discussed different ways of managing the transition with government and stakeholders.

The current market

The study found that the current market displays the following features:

  • The sale of new buses in the UK and Ireland has been in decline for over a decade. This means that even without the introduction of BEBs, the structure of the second-hand market will change due to reduced supply and increased prices.
  • Small local bus operators are just as likely to invest in new buses as large bus operators.
  • Buses transition from routes that make more money to routes that make less money over their lifetime. The definition of high-earning route is different for different sizes of bus operator.

Challenges and solutions in the new bus market

We found that the main challenges for introducing BEBs in the new bus market are limitations in driving range, the high cost of these buses and uncertainty around the lifetime of batteries.

To overcome these challenges, we think operators of new buses could take the following steps:

  • Delay investment until buses with bigger battery size are available.
  • Use buses with smaller battery sizes but rely on opportunity charging.
  • Put new BEB only on shorter and/or less frequent routes that are compatible.
  • Deploy hydrogen fuel cell electric buses (out of scope for this study).
  • Consider new business models where batteries are leased to bus operators.

Implications for the future second-hand bus market

No one strategy will be effective for everyone and a mix of the above approaches is likely. These approaches affect the second-hand bus market in the following ways:

  • Decreased supply of second-hand buses as new bus investment is delayed
  • A trend towards buses with very large batteries, which are over specified for the needs of many second-hand bus operations and are therefore more expensive than necessary
  • Reliance on opportunity charging, which might only be feasible where many bus routes come together; this may leave long-distance interurban routes without an immediate battery bus solution
  • Leased battery models could reduce bus lifetime or increase bus costs in later life