29 April 2009

BSOG reform kicks in

Back-dated from the start of this month, bus operators will see an increase in Bus Service Operators' Grant (BSOG), formerly known as Fuel Duty Rebate, of 6p per kilometer driven when undertaken by PSVs that emit low levels or carbon or who can show their fleets' fuel efficiencies have improved.

Operators able to improve their fuel efficiency by 6% or more will see a further 3p per km increase from April next year. This was one of a number of proposals put forward last year.

Transport Secretary Geoff Hoon announced the new measures at a conference organised by Passenger Focus, the rail pressure group that was awarded the role as Bus Passengers' Champion last year. He said: "I believe that this is an eminently achievable target. In fact, it has already been reached by forward looking bus companies who have invested in training aimed at improving driving techniques."

The Department for Transport defines a low carbon bus as one that delivers a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to a Euro 3 diesel bus carrying the same number of passengers. Of course new buses are significantly heavier than older vehicles. Take the once mainstay of the UK's double-decker fleet in the 90s - the Volvo Olympian. While this vehicle would not deliver the 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions needed to qualify for the increased level of BSOG, the amount of fuel needed to propel the vehicle day in, day out, is comparatively less than a more modern vehicle, say the Volvo B9TL.

The B9 is over a ton heavier than the Olympian and consequently uses more fuel, having a poorer mpg figure, around the 6.5 mark, compared to the Oly's 7-7.5mpg figure. Bristol VRs - the mainstay of many National Bus Company fleets in the 70s and 80s - were recording mpg levels of around 8 two decades ago.

While the Volvo B9TL may well see a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions compared to a Euro 3-rated engine, these vehicles conversely use more fuel than there older, more polluting counterparts.

Consider a small, family-owned operator who runs a fleet of second-hand Volvo Olympians and B10M buses on school contracts and a small number of local market day bus services. Their fleet was built in the 90s and their buses' engines conform to Euro 2 & 3 standards. They, unlike a good proportion of the 'Big Five's' fleets, will not see an increase in BSOG, but they will be continuing to use less fuel and will ensure their vehicles travel further on the same amount of diesel, than these all-singing, all-dancing new vehicles used by Arriva, Go-Ahead, First, Stagecoach, National Express et al.

The small independent gets nothing for their efforts, unlike any operator with a newer, more costly vehicle, which ironically uses more diesel to cover the same distance. Is this really progress or another nail in the coffin for the small, independent bus and coach operator? (GWB)