Features & Interviews

All aboard: a look at the latest ZEBRA bus funding package

04 April 2024 #Features & Interviews

Last month, as part of the second round of its Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) scheme, government announced a further £143 million funding package to help the roll out 955 new zero emission buses in England.

The programme is designed to encourage local authorities to work alongside their transport partners and apply for additional funding to accelerate the introduction of zero emission buses and supporting infrastructure in towns and cities across the UK.

These latest allocations are on top of the approximately £270 million given to 16 councils in the first phase of ZEBRA funding.

In the new phase, West Sussex County Council will receive the largest allocation at £10.1 million, with Plymouth City Council receiving £9.5 million, West Northamptonshire Council £9.4 million and Liverpool City Region Combined Authority £9.4 million as other major recipients of funding.

Tees Valley Combined Authority will receive money for 62 buses – the largest number of any local authority supported by ZEBRA 2.

Also, the first £40 million of ZEBRA2 will be prioritised for rural areas – many of which will get zero emission buses for the first time – partly funding 318 vehicles.

The South West will receive about 30% of the allocation with £43.4 million going to local authorities in Cornwall, Devon, Gloucestershire, Somerset and North Somerset.

Leicestershire County Council, Nottinghamshire County Council, Staffordshire County Council and Warwickshire County Council were also successful bidders.

Under the scheme, Department for Transport (DfT) contributes up to 75% of the cost difference between a zero-emissions bus and a standard conventional diesel equivalent of the same total passenger capacity. Vehicle orders must be placed by the end of January 2025.

Most of the funding will be issued by the end of March with the rest to follow in the next financial year.

Transport Secretary, Mark Harper, said: “As part of our plan to improve local transport across the country, we’re providing a further £143 million to improve journeys for bus passengers particularly in rural areas, with almost a thousand brand new, zero emission buses due to hit the road.”

Alison Edwards, Director of Policy & External Relations at the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT), added: “CPT welcomes this latest allocation of £143m from government to help accelerate vital public and private investment in new zero emissions vehicles and charging infrastructure.

“We also welcome government’s recognition of the particular difficulties faced by rural areas in moving to zero-emission bus fleets, as set out in CPT’s Rural Zero Emission Bus Taskforce’s (RZEBT) recent report.”

As more than half of electric buses from the first round of the ZEBRA scheme were manufactured in the UK, the announcement will continue to help support skilled jobs in the country and grow the economy.

The new buses, which will replace older diesel vehicles, are expected to improve the passenger experience, providing users with quieter, cleaner and more comfortable journeys.

They will also meet enhanced accessibility standards and come with the latest passenger experience features, such as wifi and USB charging sockets.

Bus operator Arriva says its operations in Leicester, Tamworth, Redcar, Durham and Darlington will benefit from the investment, adding 72 new fully electric buses to its fleets in the north of England and the Midlands.

In Leicester, the funding of 25 double decker electric buses will add to the 24 which Arriva expects to be operational by May this year.

This will mean that about 50 per cent of all services operated by Arriva in Leicester will be zero emission.

Alistair Hands, Managing Director, Regions, Arriva UK Bus, said: “Partnership with local authorities is at the heart of Arriva’s strategy, so we are delighted to have been part of these successful bids for funding.

“By bringing fully electric zero-emission and modernised transport to our communities in both the North East and the Midlands, we will improve the passenger experience with cleaner, quieter, more comfortable journeys, while also investing in our longer-term vehicle decarbonisation plan.”

Meanwhile, First Bus, in partnership with local authorities, has secured funding of £16m through the latest round of the scheme.

The company is investing £89m in a further 178 zero emission buses and infrastructure at its depots including:

  • Basildon in partnership with Essex County Council
  • Weston-super-Mare in partnership with North Somerset Council
  • Hengrove in partnership with West of England Combined Authority (WECA)
  • Taunton in partnership with Somerset Council

Also, the latest investment will enable the depot sites to upgrade their power and infrastructure; futureproofing them to operate a fully electric fleet in the coming years.

Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus, said the funding will benefit some of the operator’s most rural communities, alongside its inter-urban routes.

“It is an exciting time for our colleagues at all four of these sites as we start to transform and futureproof our depots,” she added.

“As leaders in sustainable mobility, we’ll continue to work closely with central and local Government across the UK to support the delivery of our national decarbonisation commitments.”

In addition, Stagecoach is participating in eleven projects to deploy 367 electric buses across England, from Torbay to Newcastle, involving six of its operating companies.

Sam Greer, Chief Operating Officer at Stagecoach, said: “We welcome this allocation of funding to local authorities for investment in new zero-emission buses. This support gives renewed confidence to the whole supply chain and will unlock significant private sector investment into new, clean vehicles.

“This is a really positive step forward in helping to reduce carbon emissions and deliver cleaner air, building on the funding already made available to support bus services in England through the £2 fare cap.”

The transition to zero emission bus fleets provides an opportunity for the UK create a modern bus network that offers a growing number of passengers one of the cleanest forms of transport.

With help from the ZEBRA programme, the UK – already with Europe’s largest national bus fleet – can continue to lead the way, from the city to the countryside.

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