Planes, Trains and Automobiles: How Transport is Turning Electric

The future is green—at least when it comes to transport. With the UK government’s plan to ban all petrol and diesel vehicles by 2040, more customers and business owners are turning to electric and plug-in cars. And commercial and public transport is following suit, from electric trains to hybrid airplanes.

The Rise of the Green Cab

planes-trains-pic1London’s iconic black cabs are already turning shades of green with the new TX Electric Taxi, launched in 2017. From the outside, they look a lot like the classic, handsome black cab. But these new models, which are being rolled out in other UK cities, can drive up to 80 miles solely on electric power, with a back-up petrol “range-extender” adding another 377 miles.


In March 2018 there were 34 on London roads, with 20 a week “rolling off the line”, according to a Bloomberg report. Though the cost – the vehicles are £177 per week over five years, compared to £167 per week over four years for the previous TX4 diesel model—and concern over a lack of charging points is believed to be slowing down the uptake.

Mayor Sadiq Khan has pledged 150 new rapid charging points, many reserved for taxi drivers, by the end of 2018, while it’s hoped cheaper running costs will reduce scepticism over time.

Getting On Board With Energy-Saving Buses

Catching a bus rather than driving a car has long been considered the more environmentally friendly option. And with public transport turning electric, too, it looks set to be an even greener choice in future.

Latest forecasts by Bloomberg New Energy Finance predict electric vehicles will make up 84 per cent of global bus sales by 2030—suggesting the number of e-buses is increasing more rapidly than other electric vehicles.

Electric buses have been rolling out across the UK for the past few years as part of the Department for Transport’s Low Emission Bus Scheme.

York introduced 24 new electric buses under the match-funded scheme in August 2017. The following month, Lothian Buses launched a fleet of six in Edinburgh.

London has introduced electric buses on some routes, while diesel-electric hybrid buses make up 30 per cent of the total fleet according to Transport for London. The idea is that the diesel engines will only be used when the buses run out of battery power, and wireless charging means they can top up without being plugged in. Milton Keynes also has a fleet of wirelessly charged electric buses.

On Track for Eco-Friendly Trains?

Following its pledge to ban petrol and diesel cars by 2040, the government recently revealed plans to remove diesel-only trains from the railways by the same deadline. Currently, around 30 per cent of trains run exclusively on diesel.

But since plans to electrify several sections of the network were abandoned in July 2017, it’s been trickier to predict just how green Britain’s trains might become. The Department of Transport revealed a switch in focus to “bi-mode trains”, which combine overhead electrical lines with diesel engines. This will be in tandem with “alternative fuel trains, using battery and hydrogen power”, Transport Secretary Chris Grayling told Parliament.

The situation became muddier when an investigation by the National Audit Office found that the government’s decision was down to cost-saving rather than passenger benefit.

Commenting on the confusion, Andrew Allen from Campaign for Better Transport said: “The urgent need to decarbonise transport and the unprecedented awareness of the health costs of air pollution mean the government should revisit that decision and redouble its support for alternative energy sources like hydrogen.”

Reducing Emissions in the Skies

Ambitious plans for electric and hybrid-electric aircraft are taking off, too. Small battery-powered planes have already been trialled, dubbed “Ubers of the air” by NBC News. And several commercial airlines are working towards planes capable of flying longer distances in future.

In late 2017, Airbus announced a collaboration with Rolls-Royce and Siemens to study how far electric motors can fly. The partnership will see experts at London’s Royal Aeronautical Society aiming to produce a hybrid-electric flight demonstrator by 2020. According to the Airbus website, this will be “a significant step forward in hybrid-electric propulsion for commercial aircraft”.

“We see hybrid-electric propulsion as a compelling technology for the future of aviation,” added Airbus’ chief technology officer, Paul Eremenko.

Wright Electric airplaneWright Electric is also betting electric planes are the future, investing in a passenger plane capable of flying 300 miles on battery power. The startup company has also partnered with easyJet with a view to supplying aircraft for their short-haul flights.

In Israel another startup, Eviation, is planning to launch its nine-seater electric plane by 2021. If all goes well, “Alice” could be the first all-electric commuter aircraft in service, with a range of around 650 miles.

Until batteries become much more advanced, according to TechCrunch, the possibility of long-haul flights on electric aircraft remains a speck on the horizon. Yet, with so much serious investment and research, it can’t be dismissed as pie in the sky, either.

Emily Taylor
Emily looks after Consumer Marketing for Zipcar, leading on our promotional campaigns and marketing communications. When she isn’t developing her passion for creating content, she spends weekends judging the UK’s ability to make decent coffee (we forgot to mention she’s Australian) and obsessing over dogs she doesn’t own.

Date published: 19 June 2018

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