The Big Interview: Lucy Parkin, Kleanbus Director of Environmental, Social & Governance

Martin Guttridge-Hewitt speaks to an industry expert about her storied experience in air quality, from Greater London Authority policy to a company repowering high polluting diesel buses with all-electric engines.

People can spend half their life figuring out what they want to do with the rest of it. For others, finding a calling comes much easier.

To say Lucy Parkin falls into the latter group is stating the obvious. Director of Environmental, Social & Governance at Kleanbus, today she’s privileged to work in an area she’s not only incredibly passionate about but can call upon decades of experience in order to excel in. Before we dive into her background, though, it’s first important to reveal some details about the company.

UK firm Kleanbus is at the forefront of Britain’s net zero ambitions. Using a revolutionary system, the business has developed a solution to one of the biggest obstacles standing in the way of the country’s public transport system and aims for carbon neutrality. Their technology – an e-drivetrain in a box – means diesel bus engines can be quickly transformed into all-electric, with the process taking as little as two weeks per individual vehicle and coming in at a price point around one-fifth the cost of buying a comparable EV straight off the production line.

In January, the repowering specialist completed its first build, taking an Optare Solo bus that ran on fossil fuels and internal combustion, and turning this into a plug-in vehicle. Proof of concept, with a number of UK operators now exploring how this could efficiently transform their fleets, speaking from her London home, Parkin is keen to point out her job is the latest in a long line of positions that have seen her contribute to improving air quality, and public health.

‘My background is in air quality and atmospheric physics,’ she tells us enthusiastically, explaining her career began at an air quality consultancy working on highways, government and local authority projects. ‘From this it became very clear that transport was going to be a huge part of my work and my personal mission on air quality to benefit society and the environment.’

Another consultancy job followed, then the capital called with an opportunity at the Greater London Authority (GLA), where Parkin was tasked with policy advice within the air quality team. Notably, this would see her play a pivotal part in the city’s journey from congestion charging and the Low Emission Zone, to the gold standard Ultra-Low Emission Zone (ULEZ). Set for expansion this summer, the world’s most comprehensive city emissions reduction scheme sets a benchmark others now need to meet.

‘It was a brilliant time when I joined the GLA, Ken Livingstone was Mayor at the time and he’d just launched the concept of London’s first Low Emission Zone,’ she says, explaining work was also underway to tackle the heaviest passenger vehicles – buses and coaches – and the pollution they cause. ‘Then Boris Johnson arrived and we began revising policies, around that point I moved to Transport for London (TfL) and began working on the ULEZ, which is when I first started thinking about what could really be done in terms of London’s huge bus fleet.’

Continued involvement in the city’s public transport authority, specifically from an air pollution angle, saw Parkin eventually working under the tenure of current London Mayor Sadiq khan, before being offered to climb aboard a new service in the form of Kleanbus itself. A business she believes can deliver much more than emissions reductions, with the concept also touching upon socioeconomics within the context of air pollution itself.

‘Our public transport systems are vital to keep cities and towns moving, vital for access to jobs, and allowing those people in more deprived sections of society to reach essential services. So I just thought that Kleanbus was a really practical solution, offering operators a chance to save money, save time, and protect the future of these important systems,’ Parkin tells us. ‘One of the major reasons I wanted to get involved, personally, was this idea of equality between public transport and private transport. We’re seeing this massive shift to electric cars, but with buses, they’re built to last – expectations are they will be in service for 15, 20, maybe 25 years.

‘In London, I see electric buses roll by the window daily, there are huge operators here, we’ve had the Low Emission Zone for many years and now the ULEZ. So, there’s this level of understanding and commitment. Sadiq Khan has said London will no longer order diesel buses, which is amazing and will be really helpful. But currently there are some diesel models on the roads that still have 14 years left in them. And outside London, there’s obviously a lot more. Even in London, if they are talking about net zero as a city by 2030, we need to find a way to bring forward the date by which all these old engines are removed,’ Parkin continues.

While the vision behind Kleanbus’ modular system – adaptable to work with any diesel bus– is truly impressive, the company’s holistic approach to rolling out this technology is arguably where the real genius lies. Regular readers of Air Quality News will be only too aware of huge disparities between UK regions in terms of EV charging infrastructure, not to mention slow progress at national level when it comes to ensuring enough charge points are in place to cope with rising demand. Reassuringly, we’re told Kleanbus is also developing options that go well beyond repowering alone.

‘We’re trying to have conversations with infrastructure providers, particularly in terms of ideas like opportunity charging – where charge points can be placed within bus stands where vehicles wait for short periods of time. This could drastically reduce requirements on battery, bringing vehicle weight down and boosting efficiency…. So we can provide charging packages and speak to operators about finance options,’ she says. ‘It’s all really important – I mean, buses are responsible for relatively small amounts of emissions on the pie chart, but these are in towns and cities near vulnerable people, and at times when roads and streets are busy. This means exposure limitation is critical to public health.’

This article first appeared in the February 2023 issue of Air Quality News. You can read the full digital version below. 

Take a look at the full Air Quality News February 2023 transport special below.



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