Why do most trucks continue to run on diesel? Marie-José’s have been running electric for years

Source: EenVandaag 27-08-2021

Driving battery electric or on hydrogen electric is far from commonplace in the transport sector. Most companies do not feel the need. But Marie-José Baartmans is not one of them. Her trucks have been running completely emission-free for years.

It was her children who inspired Marie-José Baartmans to found the Rotterdam-based transport company Breytner with her brother in 2014. Their electric trucks run completely emission-free. “In the Netherlands, thousands of people are victims of poor air quality every year. Once you know that and you have young children, you’re not going to do that anymore.”

Environmental zone
Like a number of other Dutch cities, Rotterdam city centre has had an environmental zone in place for years, to keep out the most polluting vehicles.
“When the environmental zone was introduced, the transport sector screamed murder and fire, but we saw it as an opportunity. In Rotterdam, the air quality was so bad. Driving with combustion engines just couldn’t be done anymore, was our conclusion.”

Plenty of polluting truck traffic
With her zero-emission transport company, Baartmans wanted to gain as much experience as possible, to be ready for when only clean trucks would be allowed to drive in Rotterdam city centre.
But, except for a stretch between Rotterdam-Zuid and Rotterdam-Noord, that is still a long way off. The years have passed and polluting truck traffic is still plentiful.

Ambition adjusted to 2030
This is partly because the government has unified agreements on environmental zones nationwide. As a result, cities can no longer set their own rules of the game. This is also how it is in the climate agreement. Earlier, it was stipulated that cities could declare completely emission-free zones for trucks from 2025. Meanwhile, that ambition has been adjusted to 2030.

Zero emission much more expensive
It frustrates Baartmans that cleaning up road transport is taking so much longer than expected. “You have to be motivated to deal with the unreliability of politics,” she says.
In addition, it is very difficult to grow as a company, she says, because electric trucks are still much more expensive and so is transport.

Technology is ready
According to manufacturers of both battery electric and battery hydrogen-powered trucks, the technology is ready. These clean solutions may continue to coexist: battery electric trucks for short distances within cities and hydrogen as a supplement for longer distances between cities or countries.

Meanwhile, trucks weighing over 50,000 kilos are running emission-free, but there is little urgency due to delayed deadlines.

‘Subsidy a drop in the ocean’
Marie-José Baartmans sees it with sorrow. She doesn’t really want to depend on it, but without subsidies, she doesn’t know how to keep her head above water in the coming years.

“Basically, it doesn’t make you happy, but if we want to continue to grow in the next five years, we have to do it with subsidies. That applies to all parties doing something with zero-emission transport, because regulations are lacking. Otherwise you cannot compete with the market. That makes growth difficult, because you only have customers who believe in sustainability, and there are few of them. Subsidy schemes are a drop in the ocean.”

Long-term vision missing
According to Baartmans, the IPCC’s most recent climate report indicates once again how urgent clean driving is. “But the transport industry is conservative. We only make steps when there are regulations.” She looks with envy at a country like Switzerland, where companies that drive without emissions get tax breaks. “There is a lack of long-term vision. I solve a big problem with my company. I feel responsible, but I have to make money out of it.”



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