Government launches £48m scheme to help electrify UK bus fleets

Brighton & Hove's Big Lemon bus fleet will be one of seven to receive funding under the scheme

The Department for Transport (DfT) and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles pledged on Tuesday (6 February) to invest £48m into new vehicles and infrastructure across seven towns and cities, in a drive to help the Government meet the aims of its Clean Air Strategy and Road to Zero plan.

The funding will be split equally between e-bus projects in the North East; Yorkshire and Humber; Manchester; Nottingham; Birmingham; Cardiff; London and Brighton and Hove, where local authorities will work with transport companies to bolster the low-carbon public transport offerings in these regions.

Under the scheme, companies across the transport sector in these seven regions will be tasked with designing and installing technologies which not only reduce air pollution and carbon emissions but help to champion social sustainability as well.

New vehicles will be designed “innovatively” to encourage greater social interaction, while beneficiaries of the fund have additionally been asked to help change passenger behaviour to create a more sociable and less lonely bus experience. This requirement was introduced after research by Greener Journeys found that a third of British people go at least a day each week without speaking to anyone.

“This Government is doing more than ever before to reduce emissions across all modes of transport, and I’m delighted to see the bus industry putting itself at the forefront of this,” Buses Minister Nusrat Ghani said. 

“Moreover, buses are far more than a way of getting from A to B – they are a crucial tool in the fight against loneliness and it is good to see the industry taking steps to tackle isolation.”

The launch of the funding comes shortly after transport was revealed to be the UK’s most carbon-intensive sector for the second year running on Tuesday (5 February), after overtaking power generation for the first time since records began in 2016.

In the wake of this finding, green campaign groups have upped their calls for bus fleet electrification and free bus travel, placing a focus on the social aspect and accessibility of buses compared to trains. 

Black cabs, gone green

In related news, the DfT has also launched a new £6m scheme to provide charging points for electric taxis across the UK this week.

The funding will see around 300 rapid charging points and 46 fast chargers for ultra-low emission taxis in 17 local authorities, including Greater Manchester, Brighton and Hove, Leicester and the North East.

According to the DfT, this infrastructure, which is due to be installed by the end of 2019, will support around 4,000 fully-electric or hybrid-electric taxis. This figure consists of 800 black cabs and more than 3,000 private hire vehicles.

There are currently around 38,000 black cabs in operation in the UK, according to the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Each cab is currently required to be replaced after 15 years of service, meaning the switch to electrified versions is likely to take several years to complete.

In a bid to help speed up this transition, the Mayor of London last year implemented a requirement for all newly-licensed black cabs to be electric or plug-in hybrids. In support of the regulation, which applies to all black cabs sold in the UK, Transport for London (TfL) has pledged to invest £18m in upgrading the capital’s power system. Elsewhere, Coventry City Council is incentivising cab drivers to purchase electric vehicles (EVs) by offering them money towards their insurance costs as well as a waiver of several licensing fees.

Sarah George

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