How Irish innovation is helping the green recovery

By Laura Brocklebank | 25 November 2020

Right across the UK councils are delivering public goods through the adoption of new traffic and transport solutions.

These public goods span a range of areas, including not just the easing traffic of congestion but of improving services for citizens, benefiting public health and reducing carbon emissions.

Such moves underpin the Government’s commitment to the green recovery, harnessing the digital acceleration that COVID-19 precipitated and using it to drive what the Prime Minister has called a green industrial revolution.

Momentum is certainly building. This time next year the UK will host the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties (COP26), designed to intensify action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change.

That dovetails with the sustainability goals of local authorities which want their communities to become greener, their cities cleaner, and for their citizens to enjoy a better quality of life.

It’s why so many have outpaced the Government’s 2050 net zero carbon goal, by setting more ambitious targets instead.

But the right traffic and transport solution helps with much more than emissions. It enables local authorities to hit a range of sustainability objectives while also driving innovation, a key component of economic success.

Already a priority, this will be of critical importance as the UK begins to look beyond the pandemic towards the building of a sustainable recovery.

Indeed, many have already started in earnest, using the quiet periods enforced by COVID restrictions to put in place infrastructure such as cycle lanes that promote active commuting.

Others are looking at ways to encourage the use of public transport to reduce congestion, but with smart scheduling to ensure capacity is optimised for social distancing.

Ireland’s national innovation agency, Enterprise Ireland, can help. It has a wide portfolio of companies already partnering with councils across the country, delivering traffic and transport innovation that local authorities can leverage to hit a variety of sustainability goals.

Zipp Mobility, a micromobility company that has received approval from the Department for Transport, is bringing a more sustainable e-scooter and e-bike-sharing model to UK towns and cities. It is currently operating pilots in Buckinghamshire and Somerset West and Taunton councils. As part of its trials the company will provide a rich source of data for councils, helping them to take a fully-evidenced based approach to future micromobility schemes.

Enterprise Ireland stablemate Bleeper is a developer of stationless bike-sharing schemes, which it provides to Dublin City Council. These vehicles, which promote public health and exercise, have smart locks that mean they can be picked up and dropped off anywhere. Their lack of custom-built docking bays reduces both capital expenditure and planning constraints, while at the same time promoting active transport and public health.

Transport intelligence company CitySwift uses data to optimise bus networks in real time, providing greater service reliability for passengers, lowering costs, boosting efficiencies and reducing congestion and pollution. It’s already ‘on the busses’ in Yorkshire, Plymouth and Brighton.

As the need for ‘demand responsive transport’ grows, companies such as EVM Direct are helping local authorities by creating smaller buses with bespoke conversions, suited for a range of purposes including, for example, additional wheelchair capacity and low flooring.

These bespoke vehicles are used by local authorities on certain routes, and at certain times, depending on the additional needs of passengers such as those, perhaps, travelling to and from care homes or schools. EVM Direct is currently working with Kent, Conwy, Pembrokeshire and South Gloucestershire, and an electric version is due next year. Their story is below.

And leading the transition to reliable and affordable low carbon energy and electric vehicle solutions, ESB Energy’s EV Solutions offer electric vehicle drivers in the UK access to a growing network of public charging points across London and Coventry City and are now working with Birmingham City Council to build an initial network of 394 fast and rapid charge points across Birmingham over the next two years. EV Solutions are deploying public charging point networks since 2010 and currently manage and operate over 1,200 charge points in the UK and Ireland. All of their charge points offer 100% renewable electricity creating a brighter future for communities.

So, whatever a council’s sustainability goals, Enterprise Ireland has a client company that can partner with it to deliver them.

To find out how Enterprise Ireland can help your team deliver on its sustainability goals, contact Laura Brocklebank, UK Local Authority Lead, at laura.brocklebank@enterprise-ireland.com

EVM is getting the UK moving

If you get into a passenger vehicle used by one of the many companies that service Heathrow Airport and across the UK, the chances are that it was built in Kilbeggan, Co Westmeath by Irish company EVM. Founded in 2009, the company has become one of the most respected and trusted names in the international vehicle manufacturing and converting industry. EVM specialises in the conversion of Mercedes Benz Sprinter vans into minibuses and mini coaches and is one of only a handful of vehicle converters in Europe to have achieved European Whole Vehicle Type Approval accreditation.

With 60 staff located in Kilbeggan and West Sussex just on the door step of Gatwick, the company has established a significant market presence in the UK, with customers including leading bus companies, private tour operators and local authorities. ‘We established our UK operation in mid-2011 and have been growing our business there ever since,’ says Sales and Marketing Director Peter Flynn. ‘We build minibuses, wheelchair-accessible buses, low-entry buses, mobility buses and so on.’

The company also exports to a number of European markets, including Finland, Belgium, France and Sweden, and this makes the Whole Vehicle Type Approval very important, as EVM Managing Director Danny McGee explains. ‘This means our vehicles are ready for action from the moment they arrive in the market. It’s the equivalent of a CE Mark. Our customers can use the vehicles straightaway without having to wait for them to be certified by any national authorities.’

The company made a strategic decision to work on the UK local authority market two years ago. ‘It was a natural progression for us here in the UK,’ says McGee. ‘We were supplying bespoke high-spec accessible vehicles to a range of customers and we decided to look to the local authority market. We have an expert team of 12 people in the UK looking after sales, after sales, parts and administration, and we felt we could address the needs of that market. It’s a big market for entry-level and accessible types innovative vehicle.’

The challenge was related to the procurement process rather than anything to do with engineering. ‘It’s a very different way of selling,’ McGee remarks. ‘The market doesn’t lend itself to a normal sales process. You’ve got to go through the public tendering and all those processes.’

When asked how the company broke into the market, Peter Flynn responds with one word: ‘Slowly’.

‘We took a multi-pronged approach to the UK public sector,’ he adds. ‘The first part was to try to understand its structure and procurement processes. Each council has slightly different way of doing things. Some will run their own fleet and operate it, some will purchase the fleet and outsource its operation and maintenance to an external partner, while others will form buying groups with other councils. Enterprise Ireland has been supporting us since we started up and they assisted us with this on many fronts.’

Flynn explains that different councils and groups of councils establish purchasing frameworks for the pre-qualification of suppliers. ‘You need to have presence on all of them,’ he adds. ‘They only open every four years or so. If you find you’ve missed one, you’ve got to wait another three or four years for the opportunity to get onto it.’

The next stage involved data gathering. ‘You have to find out who to talk to and how to get in to talk to them,’ says McGee. ‘We put people in place to gather the data and drew up a key contact list for each council. We show them what we have done and what our vehicles have done elsewhere.’

The strategy has paid off handsomely. ‘We have won quite a few contracts with councils such as Kent, Conwy in North Wales. Pembrokeshire, and South Gloucestershire,’ McGee adds. ‘In Tower Hamlets in London, we supply vehicles for the school transport service which is run through a private company.’

COVID-19 has had an impact, but not all negative, says Mc Gee. ‘It had a massive impact on the tourist segment of our market. We were seeing good signs of a recovery there when the second wave hit. We had also been selling to customers in New Zealand, Australia and Hong Kong and that stopped as a result of the pandemic.’

But the company continued to innovate. ‘One of the first things we did at the start of the lockdown was put engineering teams to work on designing driver safety COVID-19 screens. These are now in use by TfL. We worked with an Italian company on an air filtration system using UV light to ensure that air is COVID-19 free and we partnered with an Irish firm to make antibacterial film for contact points on buses.’

Looking to the future, the strategy will remain much the same. ‘We will continue to grow our presence in key marketplaces, invest in new product development to include electric driver versions of our complete range of products which are planned to be trialled with a select number of UK operators in quarter two of 2021 and continue to build long-term relationships with customers and our other partners.’

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