About Highways England and Its Investment
The scheme stems from Highways England’s Designated Funds programme, which involves the company spending £936 million, from 2020 through to 2025, on UK transport improvements.
Formed in 2015 by the UK government, Highways England has many focuses, including making UK traffic more free-flowing, economical, and environmental—by moving towards a cleaner environment that relies less on CO₂-emitting vehicles.
Highways England has already delivered over 2,000 schemes between 2015 to 2020, particularly to ensure that there are charging points on 95% of England’s motorways and on all its major A-roads.
A driver prepares to charge his electric van. Image Credit: Daimler AG.
The ‘Try Before You Buy’ Scheme
The £9.3m scheme to replace diesel vans with electric vans, as well as its ‘try before you buy’ (TBYB) approach to EV fleet management, both follow a successful pilot scheme (carried out earlier in 2020) that was operated by Highways England in collaboration with Energy Saving Trust and Leeds City Council.
The pilot scheme involved electric vans driving in Leeds for over 10,000 miles, as part of the city’s efforts to respond to COVID-19-related emergencies. And now, utilising the TBYB scheme, Leeds is giving electric vehicle trials for up to two months at zero charges. In addition to this, customers can borrow electric vans and also hire private electric cars. (You can also read about Leeds’ two-month free trial of business electric vehicles on its government website here.)
A successful trial was also carried out in Nottingham under the TBYB scheme: Nottingham’s businesses and its public sector organisations were allowed a 30-day trial of electric vehicles (such as the Kia e-Niro and Hyundai Kona Electric), which were provided by DriveElectric.
The Government’s Praise for the Project
The UK-based councils of Sheffield, Coventry, Nottingham, and Kent are also setting up their own schemes, following the Energy Saving Trust’s pilot. Bristol-based businesses, moreover, will receive over £3 million from Bristol City Council, allowing the city’s organisations to enjoy free EV loans for their vehicle fleets. As Highways England staff write, the schemes are “among a host of measures Highways England is taking to improve air quality and tackle carbon emissions from road transport, as the UK takes steps to become a zero-carbon economy by 2050”.
A fleet of electric vans parked side by side. Image Credit: Energy Saving Trust.
According to Grant Shapps, the UK government’s transport secretary, the use of electric cars and electric van fleets will be very cost-effective and practical for road users. Jim O’Sullivan, the CEO of Highways England, stated that the company is working with councils across the United Kingdom with the aim to encourage drivers to buy electric vehicles, especially by introducing the financial incentives mentioned previously.
As the CEO puts it: “[I]t is now more cost-effective and convenient than ever to drive and charge an electric vehicle. This, together with our continued support for [electrification] R&D, will see talented UK-based small and medium-sized enterprises flourish, as well as more than 6,000 skilled jobs created up and down the country”.