Credit: Natasha Coyle

What do the new low emissions zones mean for the GUSA minibuses?

By Natasha Coyle

The introduction of low emissions zones in Glasgow and many other major UK cities in June will mean extra costs for GUSA clubs.

From June 2023, many major cities in the UK are enforcing a new low emissions zone, including Glasgow. These new low emissions zones (LEZ), will mean that vehicles that do not meet the minimum emissions standards will be fined or will have to pay an extra charge before entering a LEZ. LEZ will operate continuously, 24 hours a day, all year round. But what does this mean for the GUSA minibuses that sports clubs at the University of Glasgow so heavily depend upon to taxi them to fixtures and training sessions?

The GUSA minibuses rely on diesel, meaning that the minibuses would be subject to a penalty or a pre-paid charge if they were to enter a LEZ. Whilst there is no LEZ from the car parks, where the GUSA minibuses are by the Fraser Building to Garscube, where many GUSA clubs train and require the minibuses to take their players to and from training, LEZ will impact the travel costs for many clubs in their fixtures. With sportspeople at the university having to travel to Sheffield, Birmingham, and Manchester for certain fixtures throughout the year and all these cities enforcing LEZ by June 2023, how might this financially impact the finances of a GUSA club?

GUSA’s policy is to pay for the cheapest form of transport. They subsidise the fuel costs via fuel card payment for the minibuses, however, fines or pre-paid charges for entering a LEZ would be covered by a club. Furthermore, if a sports club chose to send their players to an away fixture via train and that was a more expensive alternative form of transport to the GUSA minibuses, GUSA would cover the equivalent price of one minibus but the individual club would have to pay the rest of the costs. Yet, with the annual Sustainability Award going to the most sustainable club at the annual GUSA Ball and the association’s push for clubs to become more environmentally friendly, funding diesel-powered minibuses appears incompatible with their sustainability aims.

While trains cut emissions by around 80% on medium-length distances compared to travelling the same distance by car, the 5.9% increase in train ticket prices as of this month is making the more environmentally friendly form of travelling less financially accessible for students and sports clubs.

This increased cost of away fixtures for sports clubs may result in the following outcomes: a reduced number of BUCS teams meaning less travel for away fixtures; higher membership fees to ensure the treasury has enough funds to pay for any foreseeable fines or pre-payments, these being the most extreme possibilities. Furthermore, if a club does not send a team to an away BUCS fixture, their club is fined £500 by BUCS. Whilst this has already been a fear for many sports clubs who don’t have minibus drivers for their fixtures, this could become a more widespread one for sports clubs financially.

Why do teams not travel by train to fixtures, then? The 5.9% price increase of train tickets as of this month means that driving the GUSA minibuses would be more cost-efficient than getting a train, the cost outweighing the environmental impact. Moreover, many sports complexes, outdoor pitches, and stadiums are not within walking distance from many train stations. For example, BUCS Nationals 2023 which hosted a number of UK Universities for athletics, badminton, climbing, and swimming took place in Sheffield which has already introduced its Clean Air Zone. The athletics and badminton competitions were taking place at the English Institute of Sport which is in the middle of an industrial park in Sheffield, nowhere near the city’s main train station. Regardless of whether these teams did travel by train from Glasgow to Sheffield for one of the biggest competitions in UK student sport, they would’ve likely had to get a taxi to the venue. Furthermore, athletics had over 40 athletes competing and badminton had 8 athletes competing. The average return train ticket from Glasgow to Sheffield is £80. For 48 athletes, this would not be financially viable for a university sports club to fund, even after receiving a subsidy from GUSA.

The LEZ fines or pre-payments thus appear to be a vastly cheaper alternative to travelling by train for many away fixtures. However, with GUSA encouraging their associated clubs to become more sustainable, what are they doing about the minibuses that sports clubs so heavily rely upon? With many electric minibuses being sold at £17,000 and much higher, they may not seem like a financially viable investment for GUSA. With some of the minibuses being bought as far back as 2006 and still working in good condition, there may be the argument that there’s no need to replace the minibuses. Yet, UofG has electric-powered vans that are often parked and charging outside of the Main Building. The cost of electric minibuses may not be the issue, however, it is certainly a factor in purchasing decisions.  

Another key factor that may be resisting the change from diesel-powered to electric minibuses is range anxiety. With the average electric minibus quoted to go as far as 150 miles on a single charge, this may mean that teams have to strictly plan their service stops with charging points when travelling to fixtures over 150 miles away from Glasgow. Furthermore, the infrastructure of electric charging points for vehicles is nowhere near widespread as the infrastructure of petrol stations, and certain electric minibuses may require a certain connection to a charging point which may not be accessible at many service stations.

Most GUSA clubs are grateful for having the access to the GUSA minibuses which are so key for getting players and competitors to university fixtures and tournaments. Yet, with many sports clubs not having a number of qualified drivers (21+ having held a category B licence for two or more years), their access to the GUSA buses is already limited.

It seems that, currently, even with the added charges of LEZ being introduced in Glasgow in June and other major cities, if not already, the diesel-powered GUSA minibuses are still the cheapest options for clubs playing away fixtures. 


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