Free trials of electric vehicles (EVs) are being offered to Bristol organisations to encourage them to switch to cleaner ways of travelling.

Ahead of the city’s Clean Air Zone launching later this year, Bristol City Council is offering businesses the chance to trial electric vans and cars for up to two months, to get a better understanding of the benefits and how electric vehicles could work for them. The scheme, which is fully funded by National Highways, will run for two years and aims to reduce vehicle emissions and improve air quality in Bristol.

Eligible businesses, charities and voluntary organisations based in and around Bristol can borrow one of a range of vehicles, with full insurance included, as part of the scheme. As well as a choice of small, medium and large vans, the fleet includes taxis and electric cars suitable for smaller businesses.

The council is introducing a Clean Air Zone in late summer 2022 that will charge older and more polluting vehicles for entering a central area of the city. EVs, including those provided through the scheme, would be exempt from charges.

Mayor of Bristol, Marvin Rees said: “We all want to reduce air pollution across our city and getting older, more polluting vehicles off our streets is essential in making our city a healthier place to live.

“Not only are electric vehicles better for the environment, they’re also cheaper to run and maintain than traditional diesel and petrol vehicles. Borrowing one of our electric vehicles over a longer period of time gives drivers the chance to see for themselves how the technology supporting electric vehicles has advanced and become more accessible.

“For organisations running larger vehicles, making the change to electric is a big challenge not just in terms of costs but also developing knowledge about the makes and models available, charging practicalities, driving distances and even the driver training needed to get the most out of battery capability. Our free electric vehicle hire scheme is a great way for organisations to investigate the possibility of switching to electric without committing huge funds up front. In addition, the support and guidance from our in-house experts will help local organisations find the best solutions for them.

“We’re really pleased that over 300 organisations have already signed up for more information on the scheme and encourage others to find out more on the TravelWest website.”

Through the scheme, each EV is fitted with a device that provides detailed journey and charging data, helping organisations understand how they’ve used the vehicle. Along with impartial expert support from the council, it will help them to make an informed decision about whether to purchase one (or more) vehicles for their own fleet.

Andrew Page-Dove, South West Regional Director for National Highways, said: “We’re working with councils across the country to encourage businesses to make the switch to electric vehicles and we expect many more to start using electric vehicles when they experience the savings possible.

“We’ve invested £3.2 million in this initiative with Bristol City Council – a key example of how we are using designated funds to benefit the environment and communities around our roads as well as the people travelling and working on them.”

Bristol Veg Box are the first to take one of the scheme vehicles on loan. Andrew Wilkinson, Director said: “We are very excited about the prospect of testing a new electric van. Thanks to Bristol City Council we can now better assess the electric vehicle capacity to see how well it holds up with our heavy load and multi-drop deliveries.”

Out of Hand, a local design, print and targeted marketing solutions agency in Bristol will also be taking one of the electric vehicles on loan. Nigel Muntz, Commercial Director said: “We’re delighted to get a chance to test an electric van to see how it affects our business transport needs. We are very aware of the environmental impact of our business activities and the need to do more to improve air quality in Bristol and reduce our carbon footprint. We have been exploring electric van options to upgrade our fleet but it’s not an easy decision to make when you have several vehicles to maintain and the market is rapidly developing new models. We’ve always relied on diesel vans so getting expert help and advice on electric vehicle options from the team at the council has been really helpful.”

Some limited additional funding is available to pay for charge points for the early participants who commit to buying at least one electric vehicle after their loan ends. The council will pay an organisation replacing a diesel vehicle with electric after their loan ends up to £1,000 per charge point, per customer to top up the Government’s Office for Zero Emission Vehicles (OZEV) grant which covers up to 75 per cent of the total costs of the purchase and installation of electric vehicle charge points.

If you are interested in borrowing an electric vehicle, you can find out whether your organisation will qualify and apply here:

Read more about Bristol’s Clean Air Zone and how to prepare for it.