The Eco Travel Network story began 2 years ago at The Hay Festival when Alison & Peter entered a Green Dragon’s Den competition and were awarded a £10,000 prize from the Welsh Assembly Government to commission the build of 2 electric open air buggies for a trial with visitors to the Brecon Beacons National Park in the summer of 2011.  Their research had showed that visitors to the National Park drive an average of 50 miles a day during their stay here – they even average 14 miles (round trip) to reach the start of a walk or cycle ride. Given the visitor footfall in the Brecon Beacons National Park, that equates to 50,000 CO2 tonnes per year.

The idea of the “b-bugs” ( Beacons buggies) was to explore whether a fun, open air vehicle might tempt holidaymakers out of their cars to try exploring the area, reaching the pub, shops or local attraction in a b-bug rather than a car.

It was important in our minds that the vehicles were low energy and ultra lightweight because they didn’t need to travel far or fast and we wanted them to be able to be powered by electricity from local solar and hydro schemes.

boris out exploringThe 2 trial b-bugs (Boris and Blodwen) were designed and built by a local company, Dragon Electric Vehicles. They are road legal buggies with a top speed of 30 mph and a range of 25 miles. The small amount of electricity required to power them (1 kWh for 7 miles) could be provided by locally generated electricity from community micro hydro and domestic solar PV.

During a 4 month trial period in summer 2011, visitors to the National Park were invited to use a b-bug for up to a week to visit the pub, reach a walk, go shopping or simply explore the area.

 The vast majority loved driving the buggies and being in the open air. They reported that driving the b-bugs turned every journey into an adventure, and some of them didn’t use their cars at all for the entire week.

 As part of the trial, we established an informal network of 20 b-bug charge points (local cafes, pubs, activity providers and attractions) where b-bugs could get a top up charge and their drivers could enjoy a meal or an activity.

We were delighted that the b-bug project made the final Guardian Green Travel List 2011 – selected by judges as one of the 25 most innovative eco-tourism projects.

Both visitors and tourist businesses were keen to see b-bug rental continue but self-drive hire insurance proved a problem for individual hotels and campsites who wanted to purchase and run a single vehicle.

The solution, it emerged, was to set up a separate company (now the Eco Travel Network) which would be able to insure a fleet of vehicles and then effectively lease them out to tourist businesses to hire (in turn) to their customers.

The Network approach also has the advantage of sharing the costs of a vehicle rental programme across multiple small businesses and of ensuring that the National Park is offering eco-travel alternatives where the visitors are actually staying. If visitors have to use their cars to drive to a rental hub, it rather defeats the carbon-saving objectives!

The putative Eco Travel Network was then awarded partial start up funding by the Brecon Beacons Sustainable Development Fund in April 2012. Everyone was keen to see the scheme launched this summer but, unfortunately, supply problems meant that the b-bugs we hoped to use to kick off the scheme, couldn’t be available in time and so we approached Renault UK about starting the scheme with a fleet of their newly launched Twizys as this is currently the only mainstream UK electric vehicle which fits the criteria of being fun, low energy and relatively low cost.  We hope the visitors will enjoy it as much as they enjoyed the b-bugs.

The plan for the Eco Travel Network is to expand over time to include a wide variety of eco-funky vehicles with more business members distributed over a wider area.

We are busily growing a top up charging network for the local vehicles – this continues to be based on local tourist businesses.

If you would like to learn more about the b-bug trial, you can do so here.

If you’d like to understand more of our thinking on lightweight travel in Wales, you can do so here.