Bus & Coach SMMT News

Britain’s buses need a timetable to arrive at Net Zero

21 May 2024 #Bus & Coach #SMMT News
  • UK’s bus market could be first vehicle sector to decarbonise, with more than four in 10 new single and double deckers now zero emission.
  • National rollout currently uneven with almost half of all ZEV buses registered in 2023 going to London, despite the city accounting for fewer than one in six of the UK’s buses.
  • Bus manufacturers ready to deliver a fully decarbonised UK market, but smaller and rural bus operators face challenges, with ambitious strategy needed to deliver incentives and infrastructure.

Buses are leading Britain’s race to transport decarbonisation as Europe’s biggest market for the very greenest road passenger vehicles. Introducing an ambitious timetable of support, however, could mean the sector is the UK’s first to arrive at Net Zero, according to a new paper published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

Manufacturers have invested significantly in green bus innovation with some 13 different zero emission models now available in the UK. More than four in 10 new single and double deckers joining British roads last year were either electric or hydrogen,1 and the market could be fully decarbonised as early as 2030 if all the right enablers are put in place. At present, however, the benefits – from improved local air quality and reduced noise pollution to a more enjoyable passenger experience – are unevenly distributed.

Of all new ZEV buses registered last year, Greater London accounted for almost half (46.8%), despite the city accounting for fewer than one in six new bus registrations overall. While government support has enabled some specific cities to invest, uptake outside of the capital is far lower. The rest of England outside of London took 30.3% of new ZEV buses, while Northern Ireland received 3.3% – just slightly more than Wales, which accounted for just 2.2%.

Scotland, meanwhile, has enjoyed robust levels of ZEV bus uptake, accounting for 17.5% of all new ZEVs reaching the UK’s road last year.2 This is in part due to operators benefitting from Scottish Zero Emission Bus funding, which is helping smaller bus and coach operators of scheduled services, such as rural community and home-to-school services, to decarbonise.3 Equally, the national Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) fund has been instrumental in spurring greater green uptake across the UK. However, the scheme’s lengthy grant application process and short-term application windows mean only the biggest operators with the most resources are successful.

Smaller and rural operators also face a tough challenge due to often longer routes and lower ridership, despite the opportunity of mass green mobility helping to boost passenger numbers in semi-urban and rural areas by as much as 65%.4

SMMT’s new position paper, Next Stop, Net Zero: The Route To A Decarbonised UK Bus Market, sets out the case for a clear timetable to put every region, operator, driver and passenger on the journey to net zero. That timetable, however, must be backed by long-term, accessible support for fleets of all sizes in the form of incentives given the particularly tight margins faced by bus operators since passenger levels fell sharply in 2020.5 The challenge of switching is made steeper – and the need for incentives even more critical – by the higher upfront cost of these new zero emission vehicles compared to their fossil-fuel powered predecessors.

Decarbonising buses also depends on infrastructure in depots, and establishing the best locations for shared charging and refuelling hubs, which will take time – so action must be taken today. While Britain is Europe’s biggest ZEV market, it needs a strategy to deliver the necessary infrastructure and incentives to help operators overcome the challenges to delivering a full ZEV market. Success will mean everyone in every region can come to enjoy the advantages of affordable, mass green mobility.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said,

With the biggest zero emission market in Europe, Britain’s bus industry is in a strong position to become the first vehicle sector to decarbonise. Reaching that destination, however, requires a clear timetable and appropriately ambitious support. Governments have played a vital role in driving uptake through grant funding, and every region should be supported so that all passengers can enjoy the advantages of going green. Only then will the full benefits of sustainable public transport be realised nationwide, a necessary part of our task to deliver net zero road transport.

Notes to editors

1 Zero emission vehicles represented 45.1% of the UK’s new single and double decker registrations in 2023.
2 Based on SMMT bus registration data, full year 2023
3 ScotZEB 2, https://www.transport.gov.scot/public-transport/buses/scottish-zero-emission-bus-challenge-fund/
4 Welsh Government, TrawsCymru T1 service, https://news.tfw.wales/news/65-percent-passenger-growth-for-new-electric-bus-route.
5 UK Government bus ridership figures.

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