The London Borough of Hackney has pioneered the use of low-emission vans and plans to establish a 100% electric fleet, James Dallas reports.
The London Borough of Hackney has pioneered the use of green vans in an inner-city environment and its success last year in achieving emission reductions through the use of driver training, telematics, fleet management software, speed limiters, vehicle procurement and specification plus, crucially, the adoption of alternative fuels, saw it capture What Van?’s inaugural Green Fleet award.
The borough’s corporate fleet manager Norman Harding tells What Van? he currently has 291 light commercial vehicles on the fleet, with a breakdown of 138 light vans, 101 medium vans, 11 large vans, two pick-up trucks and a single cherry picker.
“These are nearly all from the Citroen brand,” he says, “but I have one or two Mercedes (Vito medium vans) and VWs (Caddy light vans). Most of our EVs are Nissan (E-NV200s) and I still have a few Fords (Transits), which will be going off fleet shortly.”
Although Hackney’s focus is now switching more to electric power, Harding says one of the reasons he initially opted for Citroen vans was because of their ability to run on the waste-produced biofuel, hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO).
The vans undertake a wide variety of tasks within the east London borough, including housing maintenance, upkeep of parks and open spaces, street cleansing and recycling, providing home library services, market support, and engagement with the community, Harding explains.
Typically, the vehicles are fairly low-mileage – covering from between 4,000 to 6,000 miles a year during the course of their duties – making electric powertrains a viable option.
Other than the cherry picker, Harding says some of the large vans, which are Citroen Relays, have been converted into caged-body tippers, and other conversions include a dog warden van, converted from a Citroen Dispatch, a set of meals-on-wheels vans, and some “very expensive conversions where the vehicles are used for CCTV surveillance”.
He adds: “Most of the conversion work has been done by Tipmaster, who provide high-quality conversion work and are conveniently located for us.”
With pressure growing from the government and mayor of London to reduce the number of diesel vans in the city, Hackney’s green-fleet policy looks increasingly well timed and relevant to the prevalent political climate.
“Hackney has a proud reputation for being one of the leading local authorities in operating alternative fuels. I currently have 47 EVs on fleet,” says Harding.
In the long run Harding envisages the borough’s light commercial vehicle fleet becoming entirely electric, but he acknowledges the technology needs to develop further for this to become a reality in terms of improving range, charging infrastructures and payload capacities of the vehicles available.
Having said that, he points out: “We signed up to the [government and vehicle industry] Go Ultra Low programme a couple of years ago and are one of the first organisations nationally to sign up to the Clean Van Commitment [a pledge van operators make to move towards zero-tailpipe emissions – see ‘Clean Van Commitment’] where we have committed to all our LCVs being ultra-low emission vehicles by 2028. For Hackney I envisage this as being electric unless better technology surfaces in the meantime.”
The Go Ultra Low campaign aims to promote the benefits, cost savings and practicality of electric vehicles to both individuals and fleets. The scheme is funded by the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) and backed by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).
While the borough’s goal is to embrace battery power for all its vans, Harding says he has historically taken other low-emission fuels onto the fleet.
“I have operated high-blendbiofuels for years and we are trialling a renewable biofuel called hydro-treated vegetable oil (HVO),” he explains. “The fuel is made from waste vegetable oil and therefore inherently highly CO2-efficient, but we also achieved amazing NOx reductions at the tail pipe.
“I will be initiating a tender for our bulk fuels supply later this year and will run all our HGVs on it. Furthermore, I hope to run our LCVs on it where I cannot yet operate them as electric. This would then make us totally fossil fuel-free.”