The first of 100 new zero emission hydrogen powered double decker buses have entered service in Northern Ireland.
The buses’ introduction is a huge step towards the decarbonisation of public transport.
Representing an investment of around £66 million by the Department for Infrastructure, the programme include the buses supplied by local firm Wrightbus and the associated infrastructure.
This will form a key part of Translink’s Net Zero Emissions Strategy and will be fundamental in creating cleaner and greener transport to positively impact the climate emergency and air quality.
The buses emit only water and will be 100% powered by green renewable wind energy, responding to the global climate emergency by reducing air pollution and protecting public health.
The hydrogen buses are made by Wrightbus, the Ballymena company behind the updated Routemaster introduced by then Mayor of London Boris Johnson with mixed success and some controversy and now discontinued.
The company went into liquidation last year with the loss of 1,200 jobs.
It was bought at the start of this year by English industrialist and entrepreneur Jo Bamford, the son of JCB owner Anthony Bamford, aka Baron Bamford in the House of Lords. Jo Bamford says he was attracted to Wrightbus because of his interest in hydrogen powered public transit vehicles. The company now employs 400.
Wrightbus owner Jo Bamford told The Irish World this is positive news for the jobs market in Northern Ireland and only the beginning of a zero emission conversion.
Wrightbus Chairman Jo Bamford said: “We are incredibly proud to supply the first-ever hydrogen-powered double decker buses in Ireland, and we’re just as proud to be building them locally in Ballymena.
“These world-leading Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles are a major step to improving air quality and meeting Northern Ireland’s net zero commitment, as well as helping to revolutionise its public transport system and boosting the local economy.
“We’re delighted that Translink and the Northern Ireland Executive have backed not only this initiative in Belfast, but have also made a wider investment into public transport by agreeing to introduce 100 zero emission buses on the streets across Northern Ireland.
“It’s proof that Northern Ireland is pushing to be at the forefront of the world stage when it comes to pioneering zero emission solutions.
“This is the first step in Wrightbus becoming a zero emission bus business and hopefully this will be the start of more bus operators saying, ‘Yeah, those guys have got some cool zero emission buses. We would like some of them’. And we can then get more orders and take them around Europe and around the world.”
Last year Transport for London ordered 20 hydrogen double-deckers from Wrightbus and the company has sold one to Japan with a view to selling many more.
“The reality is we need these jobs in Northern Ireland. We need zero emission buses here there and we need to export those around the world.
“There are lots of markets in the world that are chasing zero emission buses at the moment. Qatar have just ordered 2,000 for the football world cup.”
The 100 zero emission buses comprise 80 Battery Electric Vehicles and 20 Hydrogen Fuel Cell Electric Vehicles and will be the most environmentally-friendly buses in Ireland. They will be deployed between Metro in Belfast and Foyle Metro services in Derry. There will also be 45 low emissions buses for Ulsterbus services across Northern Ireland. The rest will be delivered throughout next year.
Jo says that as we emerge from the pandemic could be the right time to instill greener methods and better habits.
“I think people have had time to sit at home and think about the world. Any time you have time to pause, you come back with better ideas because you’re not chasing your tail on a daily basis. I think a lot of people coming out of this pandemic would like the world to be a greener place. If that can be what comes out of it that would be brilliant.
“Quite a lot of my customers are bus companies who haven’t had people sitting on their buses. It’s been an interesting year since I bought a bankrupt business in Northern Ireland a year ago.”
The sale of new diesel and petrol cars will be banned from 2030.
“Hopefully we sell more hydrogen and battery buses and the business grows and flourishes. We employ more people. That’s hopefully what’s next. It would be nice to have some hope coming out of the crisis, wouldn’t it?
“I’m just trying to do my little bit for the world.”
Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon said: “I am delighted to see these new buses enter service. They will be transformative for communities here as we seek to deliver more sustainable low carbon public transport.
“I have been clear that tackling the climate crisis is a priority for me and I am committed to a building a better future where we make zero/low emission public transport accessible to communities across the North. My Department recently allocated funding of almost £66million for the purchase of 145 zero and low emission buses that will enter the Translink fleet during 2021/22.
“The entry into service of the three new Hydrogen powered buses, funded by my Department and OZEV, is another exciting milestone in our move towards a zero-emission public transport fleet. This is just the beginning and I am committed to delivering cleaner, greener transport for the benefit of our environment and our communities right across Ireland.”
Transport Minister Rachel Maclean said: “As we look to end the UK’s contribution to climate change by 2050, the whole transport sector will need to embrace new innovative technology such as green hydrogen and this project is a fantastic example of doing just that.
“I’m proud to see the UK leading the way when it comes to the global transition to zero-emission vehicles. In the next decade, we’ll continue to be at the forefront of the design, manufacture and use of them too as we strive towards our net-zero goals.”