‘Green bus revolution’: UK to ban diesel bus sales and boost electric and hydrogen fleets

Pictured: A double-decker hydrogen bus from Wrightbus

The commitments form part of the Government’s new National Bus Strategy, which was published today (15 March) and commits £3bn to the sector this Parliament.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has described the strategy as the “most ambitious shake-up of the UK’s bus sector in a generation”, covering measures to make services more accessible, affordable and lower-carbon. Transport notably overtook power generation as the UK’s most-emitting sector in 2016.

On the low-carbon piece, the strategy includes a commitment to deliver 4,000 new British-built electric or hydrogen buses across the UK this parliament. Many private bus companies and local authorities have already set targets around e-bus and hydrogen bus sourcing targets, including First Bus, Arriva, Go-Ahead, National Express and Stagecoach, all of which are working with WrightBus.

There is also a commitment to end the sale of diesel buses – building on the Government’s existing 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel car sales. Ministers have stated that they will open consultations with industry as soon as possible, to determine an appropriate end-date for sales.

The strategy also makes repeated reference to the need for modal shifting, from private ICE vehicles, to buses and other public transport, at scale, if the UK is to meet its targets on climate change and social “levelling up”. It promises more services in the evenings and weekends, with a particular focus on rural and low-income areas, alongside new investments to help all buses adopt contactless payments and simpler fares.

Moreover, private bus operators will be better encouraged to collaborate with competitors and with the local authorities in which they operate. Councils will be encouraged to enter statutory “enhanced partnership” or franchising agreements to simplify funding models.

Early reaction

Reaction to the strategy has, at this stage, proven mixed but cautiously optimistic.

West Midlands Mayor Andy Street said the changes are “very welcome, and will enable big city regions such as ours to ensure buses remain at the heart of our future transport plans”.

“Residents here want clean, decarbonised buses that are affordable and continue to remain reliable and punctual, and that’s what the new strategy laid out today will deliver,” Street added.

CPRE’s director of campaigns and policy, Tom Fyans, argued that fixing problems with the UK’s bus system will require more than a one-off investment and cautioned that the Strategy may become a “sticking plaster” without broader and longer-term support for the sector.

Fyans said: “Right now, you need a car to live in the countryside and that’s not right. 

“Our towns and villages need committed, long-term funding to deliver a comprehensive bus network for the whole country, with a reliable service for every community. Countries like Germany and Switzerland are already showing this is possible.

“The Prime Minister is right; everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys. To make these words a world-leading reality there should be a fully-funded commitment to minimum service standards for our rural towns and villages. This is the right way to truly level-up opportunity right across England.”

Sarah George

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