As individuals and organisations across Scotland establish what the ‘new normal’ looks like, Dundee City Council and partner Ember have one clear goal – revolutionising and decarbonising public transport.
From installing charging points to switching to electric vehicles, Dundee City Council has become a trailblazer in electric vehicle infrastructure.
As part of its mission to decarbonise transport in the city, it announced that it was supporting Ember in its bid to launch the UK’s first intercity electric coach service, running from Dundee to Edinburgh in May.
As Ember got ready to welcome delivery of its first vehicle in March, COVID-19 hit – from the factory to shipping, the entire supply chain felt the repercussions of the global pandemic, leading to an unavoidable six month delay.
Happily, things are turning around, with a new launch date in autumn now announced by Ember.
“We’re now planning to launch on October 1st with two coaches. The COVID delay gave us additional time to build more of our technology platform and partner with Triodos, a leading sustainable bank. Having a partner who is totally aligned with net zero and the need for green, patient capital is critical,” says Keith Bradbury, co-founder of Ember.
“This has allowed us to launch with two coaches rather than one. It will allow us to offer a more frequent service from the get-go and expand faster in the coming months and years.”
Launching with two coaches means that, from October, Ember will be able to run eight return trips a day between Dundee and Edinburgh, offering an almost 24 hour service. Costing £7.50 each way, the main stop in Dundee will be at Greenmarket, where a high powered EV charging unit and loading bay has already been installed to facilitate electric powered heavy goods vehicles. Services will also stop off in Dundee’s west end and will serve several towns along the way before reaching Edinburgh.
Whilst allowing Ember the chance to boost its plans and launch with two coaches, the lockdown period has also emphasised the importance of the company. Keith and business partner Pierce Glennie started Ember with the goal of building a business that had net zero goals at it’s core.
This net zero approach to business and public transport is helping to ensure Scotland can ‘build back better’ as it recovers from the pandemic, with lower air pollution, a cleaner environment and a more resilient economy.
Specifically in Dundee, Ember will be able to create seven new jobs. It also has ambitious plans to expand rapidly and add further jobs over the coming months and years, so looks set to play an exciting part in the city’s green recovery going forward.
The new electric coach service will also offer passengers an environmentally friendly and convenient new way to travel between cities in Scotland.
“One of the silver linings of lockdown has been that it has shown the benefits of living in less polluted cities with less traffic and more active travel,” says Keith.
“We want Ember to be part of making this change permanent as lockdown eases, rather than seeing a rush back to cars. For example, we’re very supportive of changes that councils have been making to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians.
“An electric coach network is the perfect complement for active travel – we allow people to make long-distance journeys in an eco friendly way, whilst encouraging them to travel the final mile by walking or cycling if possible.”
As part of this, passengers can bring bikes onboard and Ember even has plans to provide further mobility options in future, like a service to allow passengers to hire a scooter or e-bike for use directly from the coach.
Keith also mentions that ‘there’s a lot of stigma’ around public transport, whether it’s reliability or being squeezed in like sardines, so – alongside offering an eco-friendly travel option – Ember have also focused on creating an enjoyable travelling experience for passengers.
They have purposefully removed seats to increase passenger space and comfort. Passengers are encouraged to book in advance to allow seamless boarding, although onboard contactless payments will be available for those who don’t book in advance. Concessions cards can be used for free travel, including when booking online. Live location tracking also means pre-booked passengers will receive accurate service updates and ETAs, to help them plan journeys more easily.
Some of this would have been available had Ember launched in May, but they’ve been working really hard behind the scenes during lockdown to improve the service on offer for October. This dedicated hard work during the delay period has allowed Ember to get to where they’d hoped to be by this point of the year, despite not being able to launch the first coach when initially planned.
And of course, Ember has also continued to receive support from partners at Dundee City Council too, over the past few challenging months.
“Dealing with supportive councils and governments, who are aligned with our objectives of reducing emissions and traffic, makes it much easier to work in a collaborative manner,” said Keith.
“Dundee City Council continued to roll out charging infrastructure in Dundee despite COVID, a demonstration of their commitment to electrification and reducing emissions.”
The launch of Ember is just one part of Dundee City Council’s mission to boost the city’s electric vehicle infrastructure. Under Drive Dundee Electric, it has the ambitious goal to convert 20% of all vehicles in Dundee to electric by 2027, which would see the city sit at the forefront of EV technology in the UK and Europe.
It’s also working with other partners – including the University of Dundee, NHS Tayside and local taxi companies – to create a shared network and fulfil its ambitious plans.
And it’s already proving a success – a switch to electric vehicles has seen the council travel over 5.6 million miles on pure electric, saving an estimated 250,000 tons of CO2.
Mark Flynn deputy convener of Dundee City Council’s city development committee said: “This innovative project works on so many levels for us to help deliver on our goals.
“Clearly the first intercity electric coach service in the UK is a feather in our cap and the improvements that it will bring about in terms of air quality and other environmental benefits are notable.
“But in addition as we reopen facilities and tourists come back to the city it offers a unique way of getting to and from Dundee that in itself is a visitor attraction that fits perfectly with our position as a leader in the field of sustainable transport.”
The launch of Ember will be an exciting step forward for the local authority’s plans, as well as for the company.
Ember will continue to provide updates online as the October launch date draws closer and, as it has already done so over the past few months, will continue to monitor and make the best of the situation to ensure its coaches are safe and ready to welcome customers.
“One thing we have seen over the last few months is that it’s hard to predict the future. We don’t know what the guidance will be when we launch but we will be following it in full. Whether that means face masks, enhanced cleaning and social distancing, or something else, we are prepared for all eventualities. As long as public transport is able to operate then we will run all our services, even if that is at a reduced capacity,” says Keith.
“More generally, we think it’s important to provide better public transport as part of the recovery. We don’t want a future with more cars, more traffic and more air pollution. Public transport provides a key service for many people and it will be important for businesses across the country that people can travel safely, easily and reliably.”
Travelling with Ember: what you need to know
- Ember will run eight trips each way per day between Dundee and Edinburgh from October 1st. Journey time is just over 90 minutes.
- Tickets cost £7.50 each way at www.ember.to or £9.50 if bought on board. You can book online as little as 30 seconds before departure, and the site works great on mobile.
- Concessions cards are accepted for free travel. There are no booking fees so concessions can even reserve a seat online, completely free of charge.
- You can track the bus in real-time on your phone so you’re never left waiting. There’s also fast, free wifi and USB charging on board.
- Ember have reduced seating to 41 passengers to ensure extra legroom. There are also wheelchair and bike spaces which can be booked online anytime before departure.