Traffic. Leaves on the track. Awaiting flight crew. Industrial action. Unforeseen circumstances. All referenced reasons for delays to your journey. But, how about the vehicle you are travelling on having to stop because it is exceeding its emissions limits? This is what happened to me early this morning. Here are some ponderings on what has happened.
Megabus is a beautiful thing. Daily travel across UK and Europe, semi-comfortable, fitted with free wifi and sockets, all on the cheap. Due to their price ratchet mechanism, you can steal a bargain – I recently did a return from London to Plymouth for £2.70.
Taking the night journey is a bit more taxing on the body as circulation of blood ceases and the bus slowly hot boxes with sweaty recycled air. But, this is what I did last night.
I was most surprised when I awoke to an announcement from a very apologetic Welsh driver. The coach was persistently exceeding its emissions limits so has to come out of service. Going to need a different coach.
While fellow passengers were becoming understandably concerned about getting to flights on time, I was more intrigued by what the emissions issue was all about. Twitter didn’t really solve it.
@AlexLewisJones Not sure what the problem is but there should be a mechanic there, the replacement coach should also be there to collect you
— megabusUK (@megabusuk) May 31, 2016
Chatting to the driver, I gleaned a bit more info. Apparently, this is the third time the vehicle’s software had detected irregularities and it’s a company policy of three strikes and you are out.
This disrupted not just our service, but another service that had to divert to us, the subsequent services our driver was driving and those further services of the vehicle. All this, in addition to the repairs, refunds and reputation costs will affect the business. So, why has it occurred? What’s the legislation on this? And why does Megabus done this?
I don’t have the answers for these, but I did have a delay of two hours and fifty minutes to consider it…
EU Emissions Standards
I presume they are measuring emissions to ensure their diesel engines achieve the European Union standards on air pollution from buses and coaches. Tailpipe emissions from such vehicles can include lots of different matter that may cause considerable global warming potential, but, importantly, public health impacts. Notable among these are particulate matter (PM) and nitrous oxide (NOx) emissions.
The graphic above shows how these standards have progressively tightened over 25 years. The limits refer to new vehicles. As this coach has a registration plate dated ‘61’, I assume it is affected by the Euro 5 standards which require no greater than 2g/kWh for NOx and 0.02g/kWh for PM. More detail here.
So, if that Megabus is not staying within these levels, it is breaking EU legislation. So, probably something they don’t want to be doing, right?
Does Megabus care?
Megabus is run by Stagecoach Group and this business has boasts that sustainability is at its core. Martin Griffiths, CEO, is quoted saying:
“When I think about sustainability for Stagecoach Group, it’s fundamental. It’s not an add on to the business strategy, it underpins the business strategy.”
Last year, the FT reported that many companies are ignoring the law. In that article, Stagecoach Group stated explicitly that its fleet complies fully with EU legislation.
So, if Stagecoach Group is genuine about their sustainable intentions, it would make sense to keenly monitor emissions levels of its fleet using technologies and procedures to keep its emissions as clean as its conscience. Doing so would incur considerable finance.
Even more costly would be terminating services for the reasons discussed earlier. So, would Megabus do this on just a voluntary basis?
I am yet to understand whether they are required to stop by law. But, with such detailed emissions data, evidencing law-breaking activity would be easy for an authority.
Furthermore, high emissions could be an indicator of a breakdown. Better quit at a service station than in the middle lane of the M4.
Reducing air pollution?
Whether required or voluntary, the action of ceasing operations in favour of a reduction on emissions sounds great to me.
However, I query whether it makes sense from an emissions accounting perspective. Would running an extra coach, taxis and recovery vehicles actually cause a net increase in emissions of NOx and PM? I would imagine so.
Air pollution v delays
Ultimately, I wonder whether this is the beginning of a new and obvious impact of environmental regulation upon the public. If such delays become persistent, will the public blame the wasted time on the coach operator or on the policy? If the latter, this would be a political hot potato risking future environmental legislation.
Whatever happens, I will let you know what Megabus have to say about it. If anyone has greater expertise on the topic, please do comment.