Leeds is amongst the first of the UK’s city councils that’s pledged to no longer purchase internal combustion engine (ICE) vehicles for its fleet by 2025, a move that has not only helped the city reduce air pollution on key routes to below legal limits, but has promoted the switch to zero emissions vehicles for businesses across the city.

Andrew Hickford, Project Manager leading on EV and fleet working in the Sustainable Energy and Air Quality service at Leeds City Council, tells us why the council has used its fleet as the start point for a greener and more sustainable energy and vehicle infrastructure.

Can you tell us a bit about your role at Leeds City Council and how you came to be involved in EV infrastructure?

My role as Project Manager means I lead on delivery of projects and strategies that support the wider objectives of the sustainable energy and air quality service within the Council. We deliver all kinds of projects, from purchasing the council’s energy to managing the efficiency of buildings across the city. From the late 2010s the government issued directives around clear air zones and our obligation as a city to look at air quality grew – I’d been charged with improving fleet efficiency and the air quality role grew from that.

Keeping in line with the Council’s transport and climate emergency strategies, we started the transition to zero emissions vehicles. This evolved into wider creation of a range of projects including delivery of city and regional infrastructure to support EV’s across the city and promote uptake.

A large part of Leeds’ EV strategy is focussed on its council fleet. Why have you taken this approach and what’s the business case for using EV fleets?

Leeds is one of the fastest growing cities in the UK and it is the obligation of the Council to monitor and improve air quality. When I was tasked with assessing our fleet, I quickly saw the financial benefits of centralised fleet procurement. With a long-term outlook, EVs could be a financially beneficial solution, even though that meant a higher purchase cost.

By changing the way our fleet budgets were managed and working with whole-life costs, rather than purchase price alone, we were able to put forward a business case for the transition to EVs that supported Council targets for decarbonisation but also demonstrated the operational viability of electric vehicles to the city and to the region. We could also show cost savings – after a certain number of miles, EVs break even. This was an opportunity for Leeds City Council to be an exemplar both in terms of demonstrating how they work, but also as a city organisation working towards zero emissions and improving air quality.

By 2018 we had our first 36 electric vans and that number continues to grow year on year as petrol and diesel vehicles reach the end of their life and are replaced by zero emissions vehicles. We are also continuing to develop the programme and are now focused on larger vehicles such as refuse collection trucks.

Can you tell us more about your EV  trial schemes?

One of the things I wanted to do to encourage uptake was get people behind the wheel and challenge their preconceptions of EV’s. So we launched a trial scheme for electric vans and private hire vehicles, making them available for free on a short loan basis to businesses, SMEs, third sector, public sector and charities.

Electric vans

We held 203 trials with 192 local businesses. In total, 297,388 miles were traveled, and the businesses collectively saved an estimated £29,447.93 and 29 tonnes of CO2.

Electric private hire 

We held 28 trials. 85,263 miles were traveled and it was estimated that drivers saved roughly £5,365 and 6 tonnes of CO2 was saved.

Not only did we see the benefit of switching to electric in the numbers, the feedback from those taking part was undeniable positive too. In the case of electric vans, 97.37% of participants would recommend the scheme, and 78.95% said their opinion of EVs had changed for the better. And for electric private hire, over half of trialists shared that they have or are looking to buy an EV.

We have also trialed a home charging scheme for staff who take fleet vehicles home, installing home charging points for them to use overnight. This improved performance, but also helped us raise awareness – as local residents could see live, branded electric vehicles in use throughout the city. The scheme started as a pilot, with 10 volunteers, with the trial proving successful as well as popular with staff, the pilot became part of the fleets EV strategy, with over 100 home chargers now having been installed. This effectively supplements the depot charging we have supporting the charging of the fleet of almost 400 electric vehicles we have in operation.

How has telematics data helped your EV strategy?

The EV trial vans are equipped with telematics which, with guidance from EB Charging, enabled us to provide bespoke reports to businesses that outlined factors such as calculated running costs, total EV costs, and total savings over the course of five or seven years. Typically, transitioning to EV’s offered savings. The experience was so positive that participants in the scheme have already bought over 40 zero emissions vehicles between them.

Telematics also allows us to manage our vehicles more effectively, driving efficiency in the way they are used, including reducing maintenance costs. This can also support data analysis when we look at the kilowatt hours discharged per vehicle when charged at home so we can  reimburse staff directly based on Ofgem’s price cap, monitor mileage and vehicle performance.

What lessons have you learnt when rolling out your council’s EV fleet?

Whenever you’re looking at sustainable projects, you need to ask the right questions. It’s not about how many vehicles you need and where they are going to use them, it’s about how sustainable they are, both environmentally and financially.  You need to put together a proper business case – especially when seeking funding – to make change happen.

Have you received government grants or funding?  

Yes, we have received funding from the Government to support initiatives for clean air, as well as support from National Highways and  the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) to fund our scheme to loan electric vehicles to other businesses. The transition of our own fleet to EV has not attracted grants or funding from the government directly, the change has been made based on the business case being made. We utilised the workplace charging grants that Government offered, as well as the plug-in vehicle grants but these were universally available.

We also were able to make use of the Government’s Home Charge Grant, which partially funded our home charging trial though this funding has since been withdrawn.

And what challenges are you anticipating in the future? 

The challenge now is how we continue the transition to larger electric vehicles, as the market for heavier commercial EVs isn’t quite there yet. We’re in the process of equipping a waste depot with 46 charge points – Newmarket Approach – and the process of establishing the business case for a fleet of EV refuse collection vehicles is proving to be challenging, however we have started procurement of the first EV-RCV’s this year.

What are Leeds’ EV goals or ambitions for the future? Do you have set targets?

We are working towards two key targets. First, Leeds City Council will no longer buy diesel or petrol vehicles and the entire fleet will be electric by 2025. Second, that the fleet supports the city’s target to be carbon neutral by 2030.

What piece of advice would you give to other Councils that are about to embark on their EV fleet journey?

  • Look at the business case and see how agile and flexible you can be in terms of looking at whole life costs, rather than purchase costs alone
  • Find ways to link your fleet to your Council’s climate emergency target so that you can prove EV’s are both environmentally and financially sustainable
  • Focus on EV infrastructure – while there is some capital funding available, it doesn’t necessarily support the amount of resource and delivery costs needed to fulfil these schemes. This is often where it is easy to fail, though  – EV infrastructure must be accessible
  • Get your own house in order before dictating to businesses what they should do. By championing EVs in the Council’s fleet, we can demonstrate that we practice what we preach
  • Finally, get as many people behind the wheel of an EV as possible. When we first started out, there was a real battle to convince people that electric vehicles actually work. If you show them, they will see the benefits

If you’d like to find out more about making the transition to EV fleets, drop us a line info@ebcharging.co.uk.

Date: 12/07/2022