Kent County Council has teamed up with Renault Trucks to introduce its first electric minibus to help disabled and vulnerable people.
The nine-seater vehicle, a Master Z.E exclusively being used in Kent, has been adapted for up to two wheelchair users and will be run by Kent-based charity Compaid.
The minibus is the first pilot vehicle by Kent County Council to assess the longer term financial and environmental benefits of electric vehicles.
Deputy cabinet member for highways, transportation and the environment Michael Payne said: “This is not just a first for Tonbridge and Malling, it is a first for Europe to be using the Master Z.E. We believe the future is green and the future is electric, and I’m pleased to say the future is here.
“It’s a real coup for Kent that we have been able to secure this trial. It’s not just an electric minibus, however, this vehicle has been converted to be fully accessible for everyone in and around the Paddock Wood area and this trial will help KCC prove the viability of electric vehicles.
“We are committed to a green agenda and have been developing the Kent and Medway Energy and Low Emissions Strategy and part of which is an electric vehicle action plan and I would encourage everyone to take part in the consultation when it launches on July 1.”
The Master Z.E will be taking disabled and vulnerable people from Tunbridge Wells and surrounding areas to the charity’s training centre in Paddock Wood to learn computer skills.
Compaid will also use the vehicle to help people access medical appointments and shopping trips. The charity now has 22 vehicles and over a year carries around 1,450 passengers, completing 39,000 journeys and covering 340,000 miles.
Compaid Chief Executive Stephen Elsden said: “Electromobility is a key part of our sustainable transport solution which is now in reach as the cost of electric vehicles falls and battery range improves.
“We are delighted to be the first organisation in Kent to put it to the test. We operate door to door, stop-start – it’s the kind of work that will drain a poor battery fast, so the Master Z.E’s proven real world range is fit for the job in hand.
“Following what we expect to be a highly successful trial, we hope to bring in more electric vehicles as we update our fleet.”
As well as zero emissions, the quietness of the electric motor offers a further key benefit.
Mr Elsden added: “We pick up and drop off in residential areas, so reducing noise pollution in local streets is important, however it is equally valued by our passengers who see the journey as an integral part of their experience, an opportunity to chat with friends.
“A quiet vehicle is a real asset for conversations, rather than having to try to talk over the noise of the engine.”
Grahame Neagus, Head of LCV, Renault Trucks, says: “Electric minibuses like the efficient Master Z.E. are the less intrusive, cleaner and more cost effective solution for community transport, so it is particularly pleasing that the first Renault Trucks Master Z.E. in the UK is helping to improve the vital service that Compaid provides for the people of Kent.”
To support electromobility across the county, Kent CC is expanding its network of electric vehicle charging points, to help reduce congestion, noise and air quality issues.
The Kent and Medway Energy and Low Emissions Strategy is due to go out for public consultation on July 1.
The strategy aims to create actions to eliminate poor air quality, reduce fuel poverty and deliver an affordable, clean and secure energy supply for Kent and Medway.