Van profile: Yorkshire Ambulance Service

Speed is critical to Britain’s blue light fleets as they respond to calls 24/7, but that does not stop those life-saving organisations from adopting a significantly ‘green’ tinge.

As part of its public sector cuts, the Government has charged the National Heath Service with trimming millions of pounds from budgets, so savings generated by improving fleet vehicle efficiency and utilisation can be redirected towards frontline patient care.

Additionally, while blue light and other vehicles are operationally critical to the UK’s ambulance services, they are contributors to air pollution, which in turn impacts on the health of children and adults across Britain.

It is little wonder, then, that the UK’s 14 ambulance services, collectively running perhaps as many as 20,000 vehicles, including 7,000 ambulances, have joined together to share ideas and best practice. GrEAN – the Green Environmental Ambulance Network – recognises that, as vehicle-based organisations, the ambulance services face very different challenges in reducing their carbon footprints than the rest of the health service.

The NHS has set a carbon reduction target of 10% between 2007 and 2015 for ambulance services across the UK. However, the Yorkshire Ambulance Service (YAS) is aiming for a 30% reduction in CO2 and hopes to save up to £1.5  million, mostly through fleet initiatives.

Although its CO2 emissions have risen from a 2007 baseline of 16,531 tonnes – of which transport was responsible for more than 10,800 tonnes – to 18,000 tonnes in 2012/13 (with transport’s share accounting for more than 12,000 tonnes), YAS environmental and sustainability manager Alexis Keech says big wins are in the pipeline.

Headquartered in Wakefield, YAS was the first UK ambulance service to employ an environmental and
sustainability manager, in 2010, and the first to commence a carbon management programme. Today, YAS is one of five ambulance services to employ an environmental and sustainability manager. Keech works with fleet, estates and procurement departments to reduce the impact that the service has on carbon emissions.

YAS’s estate emissions have gradually been decreasing through the introduction of more efficient lighting and boiler upgrades among other measures, but fleet emissions are more difficult to tackle with vehicles that need to reach destinations across 6,000 square miles as quickly as possible and serve more than five million people.

Fleet CO2 emissions directly relate to the amount of miles driven (more than 30 million in 2012/13) and the volume of fuel used (almost £8m worth in 2012/13), so the introduction of significantly more efficient vehicles should give YAS a significant saving.

Keech said: “The pace of technological developments of today and into the future enables us to reshape our fleet. We are all too aware that air pollution impacts on our patients’ health and we are working towards more hybrid and other alternatively fuelled vehicles on our fleet whilst moving away from diesel.”

In 2010, YAS began working with Leeds University on a ‘green ambulance challenge’ to design a vehicle that would replace what it called “a yellow and green driven brick”.

Engineers used aerospace industry techniques to design hi-tech, low drag light bars and cut 800kg from the vehicle’s weight through innovative storage. Better material design and lightweight materials and equipment have allowed an increased payload and higher passenger capacity.

The new, aerodynamic vehicles – manufactured by South Manchester-based ambulance specialist Cartwright utilising a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter 4.6-tonne van – have returned an average 21.18 mpg travelling more than 560 miles per week – an improvement of almost 25% on the average 16-18mpg fuel efficiency of an ambulance.

YAS introduced 21 of the new vehicles to its fleet last year and 43 more in the first quarter of 2014. It anticipates transforming its fleet – 1,456 vehicles including a commercial operation with 495 frontline vehicles and 467 Patient Transport Services vehicles – by replacing 43 ambulances a year.

It was the development of this new vehicle, alongside a host of other initiatives within YAS’s Carbon Management Plan, that made it the Green Van Fleet of the Year in the 2013 Fleet Van Awards.

Those other initiatives include:

  • An autoroute mapping system for Patient Transport Services vehicles cut annual mileage by 1.2 m  miles compared with 2010.
  • An eco-driving education programme, which identified potential savings of £500,000. Members of the Patient Transport Services have been trained in eco-driving skills by internal trainers since 2010, which has resulted in an 11% improvement in mpg.
  • Fleet buying policy requires all new vehicles entering service to be Euro5-compliant, progressing to Euro6 when available.
  • Improved tracking of fuel purchases via fuel cards and bunkering.
  • Introduction of four Cycle Response Units in city centres.
  • Each YAS location has appointed one employee to be a “carbon champion” to raise awareness of what is being implemented across all aspects of the organisation, which employs more than 4,500 people.

Meanwhile, Keech is confident that alternatively fuelled vehicles will have a future role in the fleet. She continues to examine potential uses for pure electric and range extender vehicles – although range and operational requirements currently limit their use – as well as fuel cell and compressed natural gas vehicles.

Additionally, YAS’s fleet and carbon management programme is focusing on:

  • Introducing speed limiters with an override when ‘blue lights’ are turned on.
  • The replacement of all non-accident and emergency
  • vehicles with hybrid, electric and compressed natural gas vehicles if suitable.
  • The case for telematics implementation in association with the organisation’s accident reduction department.
  • Fitting solar panels to vehicles to trickle charge their auxiliary batteries, reducing reduce the need for the engine to be run while on standby waiting for emergency calls. South Central Ambulance Service has successfully introduced this initiative, which came out of the GrEAN network.
  • Equipping vehicles with ‘green’ tyres.
  • Introducing brake regenerative technologies.

Keech said: “We work in a responsive environment and currently we are seeing the number of calls received increase at the rate of 4% a year, but by taking a holistic approach we can reduce our fleet carbon footprint because that is potentially where the biggest savings will come from.

“The demands on our mobile estate are huge and there are many influencing factors and huge variables, but at all times we must ensure that we have resilient vehicles that are comfortable for staff and patients.”

Highlighting that there is no monopoly on introducing ‘green’ fleet solutions, Keech said when she was appointed she wanted to exchange best practice ideas with other ambulance fleets.

From those exchanges, GrEAN was born and all the UK’s 14 ambulance services are represented on the initiative.

It has compiled a ‘Climate Change Adaptation Report’ that analyses the potential detrimental effect of climate change and the response that the ambulance service can make to mitigate the effects.

Keech said: “By working together, we can be more effective and identify solutions, such as fitting solar panels to vehicles, that we know work following trials.

“It is not about tree-hugging, but there are financial benefits to be had by adopting technology that will reduce our carbon footprint.”

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