More than one million new passengers could be attracted to use the UK’s bus networks through the switch to zero emission buses, according to a new landmark report published by Stagecoach, Britain’s biggest operator.
Road map to zero: the transition to Zero Emission Buses, what it means for people, and the journey to get there, sets out an ambitious national vision for achieving the introduction of 100% Zero Emission Buses (ZEBs) across the UK.
The independent research and recommendations build on Stagecoach’s target of achieving a 100% Zero Emission UK bus fleet by 2035 and are designed to support all bus operators in achieving this ambition as well as supporting the country’s net zero targets.
Looking at the challenge by focussing on the people who interact most with the bus network – both the public and the workforce – the report identifies the scale of the opportunity that electric buses present, showing how they can attract a new generation of bus users.
Over a million current non-bus users say they would start to use services if electric buses were introduced in their local area, as long as fares and frequency remain the same. What’s more, over nine million current passengers would expect to use the bus more often.
The report highlights the significant operational and commercial challenges that all UK bus operators need overcome to achieve this, including:
- Upgrading infrastructure across the country, electrifying all vehicles and depots, recognising the increased space and longer charging times that ZEBs will require
- Upskilling the workforce and attracting a new generation of people to highly skilled, green jobs in the bus industry
- Developing a long-term sustainable funding approach which reflects the increased costs of a ZEB compared to a diesel bus.
Critically the research lays bare the importance of getting the approach to overcoming these challenges right.
Getting the transition wrong could have significant consequences for passengers and the sustainability of the bus network. Independent polling carried out as part of the report shows that if fares were to increase by just 10% to fund the transition to Zero Emissions Buses, more than 12 million passengers say they would use the bus less often. If the introduction of greener buses failed to improve either punctuality, frequency or passenger experience, over 14.5 million people would be left disappointed.
The research highlights significant public support for the transition to ZEBs, finding that:
- The public want to see the introduction of greener buses – 66% of the public think that the move to Zero Emission Buses is a good thing
- Transitioning to Zero Emission Buses is likely to make the public have a more positive impression of their local bus operator – there is a likely 268% increase in satisfaction towards their local bus operator amongst non-bus users after the introduction of ZEBs
- The public recognise the scale of the challenge – 53% of the public consider that it will be hard or very hard for bus operators to shift to 100% ZEBs.
To meet passenger expectations, Stagecoach has proposed three core principles and 21 specific recommendations which will allow the industry to transition to 100% electric buses while increasing the number of passengers across the network.
Developed following a roundtable with industry stakeholders and policymakers, and reflecting the priorities of passengers, the principles identified from the report are:
- Funding: The costs of the transition cannot fully be borne by passengers as patronage will fall further
- Customer experience: Passengers need to feel that the quality and reliability of service they receive when travelling by bus will improve with the introduction of green buses, rather than be put at threat
- Partnership: All stakeholders with an interest in delivering this vision need to work collaboratively to solve the barriers to rollout.
The report’s specific recommendations cover funding, infrastructure and operational changes, and workforce challenges, and include:
- Bus operators, local authorities and national governments should work collaboratively to explore new or innovative long-term funding models, including local revenue raising solutions
- Bus operators should work with local authorities to promote the introduction of new ZEBs to ensure their introduction is effectively maximised as a potential trigger point for modal shift
- The bus sector should collectively promote new ‘green engineering apprenticeships’ to young people across the UK, securing a sustainable workforce of the future
- Local Transport Decarbonisation Partnerships should be established between different bus operators, Distribution Network Operators and local authorities to establish the gaps between existing grid capacity and that are required to achieve full ZEB rollout in each community
- Government and Ofgem should assess the need for a new statutory duty on DNOs to prioritise grid infrastructure upgrades which have a significant social and community impact, such as bus charging infrastructure.
Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach, said: “This report demonstrates the prize that is front of the country in terms of moving people out of cars and onto lower carbon forms of transport, if we get the transition to Zero Emissions Buses right. Not only can we reduce emissions by transforming the environmental footprint of the bus fleet, but we can build a new generation of bus passengers.
“This is exciting news for bus operators, the wider industry, government, local authorities and crucially for passengers. However, it’s clear that this is conditional on us all getting the transition right and ensuring that the priorities of passengers are put first.
“Our research makes clear that this transformational change needs to be done carefully. This road map is our contribution to the wider debate, setting out a plan that will support the whole sector make this a success. It’s clear that to achieve this we must take a collaborative approach that meets passenger expectations and focusses on improving the passenger experience. If we get this right there’s so much to gain, but if we don’t we risk setting back the transition to Net Zero.”
The recommendations in the report have been supported by leading voices across the sector including the Department for Transport, Scottish Government, Zemo Partnership, Campaign for Better Transport and Transport Focus.
Baroness Vere, Roads Minister, said: “It’s wonderful to see such an ambitious vision from Stagecoach for a national zero emission bus fleet. It’s clear public transport will be vital in our journey towards greener transport and zero emission buses are a key part of this Government’s ambitions, as demonstrated by our commitment to support 4,000 zero emission buses.”
Minister for Transport, Jenny Gilruth, said: “I welcome this contribution from Stagecoach on practical actions that can be taken to decarbonise buses, putting workers and passengers at the forefront of considerations. Choosing bus is already a fantastic choice for the environment, but electric buses offer even more benefits for our air quality and climate.
“To respond to the global climate emergency, we all have to play our part. So I’m pleased that as well as producing this report, Stagecoach is active in our Bus Decarbonisation Taskforce, where we are working together to agree a pathway to a zero emission fleet for Scotland.”
The Rt Hon Norman Baker, Campaigns and Policy Advisor for Campaign for Better Transport, said: “It is great to see the enthusiasm within the bus industry for a determined move towards a zero emission bus fleet. This reinforces the point that the bus is key to any strategy to tackle climate change and rightly positions the bus as part of the solution and a vehicle firmly grounded in the future. We welcome this report from Stagecoach.”
Anthony Smith, chief executive of the independent watchdog Transport Focus, said: “We are pleased to see this report and research from Stagecoach. Zero emission vehicles will be increasingly key to helping public transport play its part in achieving Government decarbonisation targets. More investment in buses is really welcome. New vehicles, plus a focus on passengers’ key priorities of reliability and value, will tempt more people to give bus a go.”
Andy Eastlake, Chief Executive, Zemo Partnership, said: “This report shows the potential ‘win-win’ we could achieve from the transition to zero emission buses if we work together to get things right. Travelling by bus can already be one of the most sustainable and lowest carbon modes of travel and the rapid transition to zero emission buses – that we’re working hard with Stagecoach and others to achieve – will improve this further.
“The shift to zero tailpipe emissions buses is a great opportunity to transform the image of the bus and capture a whole new set of users who want to do their bit for the UK’s net zero ambitions. The smooth, quiet, efficient zero emission bus using renewable energy can be a compelling proposition and should be in the vanguard of the UK’s journey away from fossil fuels.”