In her first formal speech since joining the DfT, new transport minister Nusrat Ghani announced £40m of funding to allow 20 local authorities to retrofit buses with clean technology. Speaking at the UK Bus Summit at London's QEII Centre today, she hailed retrofitting as an economic solution and promised to be a champion for the bus and coach sector.
"I'm a huge advocate for buses," she told delegates. "This industry is indispensable. No other form of transport offers anything like the benefits that you offer."
Buses proved "buses provide a unique answer to most of the local transport challenges that we face," she continued. But "they are often taken for granted. That's something I want to change, with your support. I want to champion bus and coach," she said.
She added: "I want to use the Bus Services Act as a way encouraging authorities and bus companies to make services more attractive, and create a shift away from car use."
A revolution in road transport lay ahead with the introduction of new technologies, new infrastructure, the phasing out of fossil fuels and digital communications. But these provided "an unprecedented opportunity for buses," she said. "Buses and coaches are a part of the solution." Last year the government published plans to tackle traffic pollution and announced a £220m Clean Air Fund in the Budget. Later this year it would unveil its Clean Air Strategy.
Ms Ghani said there was an opportunity to position the bus industry as a leader in environmentally friendly transport and "a catalyst for greener, smarter travel".
There were almost 6,000 low carbon buses in service, including the largest hybrid fleet in Europe of over 3,000 buses, she said. In 2015 Low Emission Bus Scheme helped add another 300 green buses last year, and another £100m was invested in 2016.
"The sooner we get more low emission buses on the road the faster we will reap the benefits," she said. She announced the 20 local authorities which would share £40m as part of the Clean Bus Technology Fund to retrofit buses with low technology to reduce emissions of nitrogen dioxide. Originally the plan was to release £30m now with a further £10m next year, but the quality of the bids was such that the full £40m was being made available now, to fund two-year projects, she said. Older buses would be brought up to meet the minimum standards of clean air zones, particularly in areas exceeding statutory limits.
The winning authorities were: West Yorkshire, Bristol & Bath, Gateshead, Leeds City, Transport for the West Midlands, Leicester City, Oxford City, Coventry, Nottinghamshire, Transport for Greater Manchester, North Tyneside, Nottingham City, Transport for London, Sheffield City, Sefton MBC, Derby, Southampton City, Essex, South Tyneside, and Newcastle City.
For unsuccessful authorities there would be future opportunities to bid for retrofitting via the Clean Air Fund.
She added that she would be focusing on the Bus Services Act in the coming months, and in particular hailed its open data provisions, which would allow software developers to create apps to provide easy access to information on fares, routes and times and make it easier for passengers to use the bus network. The government had set out guidance on implementing the measures in the act last autumn, with a further regulations and guidance to come. She concluded: "The key to success is partnership. Government and bus industry, local authorities and operators working together for the benefit of the passenger, for the benefit of bus operators, and for the benefit of Great Britain."