There’s a certain amount of sympathy for drivers today – for many reasons. Pressure from environmentalists, increased running costs and being ‘encouraged’ down the path of electric vehicles without any say are all factors that can cause headaches for fleets.
Having said that, the shift from ICE vehicles to battery electrics has been embraced by many fleets operating all types of vehicles. One such fleet is First Bus, which announced an initiative in 2022 to open up its Caledonia depot in Glasgow, which has been fitted with 160 rapid chargers, to fleets that need to recharge their vehicles during the day. (The site was recently toured by First Bus Scotland MD Duncan Cameron and Scottish minister for transport, Jenny Gilruth.)
The first customer to take First Bus up on the offer was DPD, whose drivers use the site during the day to charge while on the go. Police Scotland has also signed up and First Bus is in advanced talks with Glasgow Taxis, too.
“The viability of charging infrastructure for other businesses outside a depot of our size is a concern. There’s limited availability, reliability is an issue, so the partnership is looking at how we can support the business community,” says Graeme Macfarlan, First Bus commercial director. “The surplus charging infrastructure that we’ve got, as well as the power that’s available from the chargers at the depot, gave us the opportunity to support businesses that potentially wanted to meet their own decarbonisation ambition.” Another advantage for fleets, states Macfarlan, is not having to invest in their own costly infrastructure.
As well the pilot facility, Macfarlan says First Bus is preparing to offer charging at its Aberdeen and Scotstoun (Glasgow) facilities. “They are smaller depots, but the offer will be the same,” he confirms. “We are also looking to invest in an improved retail management system that may give people a different way of paying for added flexibility.”
With 160 rapid chargers on offer, there is the potential for First Bus to make the lives of drivers – and fleet managers – a lot easier, but Macfarlan isn’t getting too carried away. “The first aim of the pilot was to make sure the concept worked, the software was up to the task and ensure that third parties could be safely integrated on-site. With regards to the bus operations, we had to ensure safe access and egress for them, so they could come in and charge with no risk and that the charging and billing aspects all worked.
“Going forward, certainly one of the ambitions is to get more partners signed up and revenue-manage different sites, so if we want to stimulate demand, or we want to manage demand, we can look at different times of the day or days of the week where we could potentially offer more competitive rates per kilowatt hour,” he adds. “There’s work going on at the moment with suppliers to create that back office [system], and that will bring with it a pay-as-you-go offering, as opposed to just retrospective billing. So not only are we increasing the number of sites, we’re also offering operators more flexibility in how they can pay for the electricity that they’re using.”
Since the scheme was launched, First Bus has charged clients 55p per kWh, but Macfarlan confirms that the rates are under review. “The clients are aware we are going to review the prices and they are both happy with that. The new rate is likely to be touching 80p per kWh, which I still think is very competitive. Not just in price, but also in terms of the access and scale of the chargers – availability and speed of charging are two things people are prepared to pay for.”
Beyond the ease of charging, the First Bus Caledonia site also offers other benefits to drivers during vehicle charging. “We’re very fortunate because opposite the depot is a retail park with several food and drink outlets, such as Costa and Greggs,” explains Macfarlan. “Also, to help facilitate people getting to and from that location, we installed an additional security gate at the far end of the depot, which is where the dedicated customer chargers are. Essentially we’ve made it easier for them to get to the concessions over the road and I think that’s appreciated.”
At the moment, the site is available to vans and passenger cars, but there is the potential for electric trucks to charge up at one of the First Bus sites in the future. “There’s certainly no reason why not,” says Macfarlan. “One of the things we have to do any time we’ve got a new client is a compatibility test. We’ve got specific CCS plugs, so if a client wants to come and charge, they would have to have the compatible equipment. The only thing that would restrict us is the access and egress for larger vehicles.”
Finally, although First Bus is helping out other businesses by freeing up chargers for them and charging them for the privilege, the scheme offers the company other benefits, says Macfarlan. “One of the things we try and do is positively influence the reputation of the business. We’re focused on becoming a leader in transition to the low carbon future, and the commitment for 2035 includes a commitment to support the local community, which is a reputational benefit. With initiatives such as this one, we can help other businesses move forward where the cost of infrastructure may be prohibitive.”
BOX: FROM THE CUSTOMER'S POINT OF VIEW
DPD was the first operator to take advantage of the First Bus offer of vehicle charging at Caledonia.
“The drivers have found it convenient and really like the secure site and powerful and reliable chargers,” reports Olly Craughan, head of sustainability at DPD. ‘We’ve three depots in the area and, while not all drivers go past the facility,
a large number of them use it to recharge during working hours. We have 99 electric vehicles operating in the area and around 60% of them can recharge at First Bus.”
Craughan says that the ability to charge at Caledonia is a big help to DPD’s environmental targets. “We’ve pledged to run all-electric fleets in 30 cities across the UK – including Glasgow and Edinburgh – by the end of 2023,” he explains. “Infrastructure is the most difficult part of the transition to EV – more so than the vehicles themselves – so having somewhere like that to charge really helps. Most of the fleet is home-based and, while home-charging would be ideal, many drivers have to park their vehicles on the road, so don’t have access to chargers there. As the size of the fleets – as well as the vehicles – continues to grow, sites such as Caledonia are vital to operators who are looking to decarbonise.”