Communities across the UK will benefit from over 260 new low emission buses, thanks to £48m funding from the Office for Low Emission Vehicles, transport minister Nusrat Ghani revealed today. She was speaking at the fifth annual UK Bus Summit, held at London's Queen Elizabeth II conference centre, where she delivered the keynote speech.
Nineteen successful bidders throughout England and Wales will receive funding from the Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme to buy new low emission buses and supporting infrastructure such as charge points. Successful bidders ranging from Cardiff City Council Greater Manchester Combines Authority and West Yorkshire Combined Authority to Brighton and Hove Buses, Newport Transport and Trent Barton will be introducing electric, hydrogen and biomethane powered buses. The funding will help meet low emission targets in the government's Clean Air Strategy.
Ms Ghani said: "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."
She also announced a new partnership with Greener Journeys, supported by four bus operators, to reflect the pivotal role played by the bus industry in tackling loneliness and social isolation.
Recent research showed that a third of people in the UK were routinely lonely. Greener Journeys and Go-Ahead, Stagecoach, First Group and National Express would be participating in the initiative. This would include ventures such as Go Ahead Group's 'Chatty Bus' campaign launched last week and designed to encourage conversations between passengers, and "Hattie," a community bus from Stagecoach specifically designed to provide a friendly environment where people can chat to others. The minister hailed this as "a major collaboration with Greener Journeys, supported by the four companies, to see how we can use buses to help with social interaction".
Ms Ghani said that, over 120 years, buses had become part of the fabric of every town, city and region in the UK. Patronage figures released last week may have been down, she added, "but the figures don't reflect the purpose of the journeys of the benefits to society" – allowing people to travel to work, college and providing connectivity to people who would otherwise be isolated.
She said that over the coming decade it was vital for buses to continue to innovate and participate in the digital revolution. Buses must reach out and make it easy to travel by providing readily available information such as on fares and ticketing. The industry also needed to respond to the increase in demand responsive travel, she said, citing Go-Ahead's PickMeUp service in Oxford as an example.
She called for partnerships between local authorities and bus companies, to connect timetables with other modes. There should be a focus "on how easy we can make bus travel for passengers", she said.
Today's inclusion initiative was "a first step" and would demonstrate the power of partnership to increase interest in buses. She encouraged local authorities and bus operators to work together more closely, as many already do, and commended the Bus Act as encouraging new ways to do this.
"I'm looking forward to working together to create a bright future for buses," she concluded.