“Clearer Air, a Quieter Environment, less Pollution and less Carbon Dioxide emitted – just some of the benefits from converting to electric buses,” says Nick Hollinghurst a long time Lib Dem activist based in Tring in Hertfordshire.
Government grants have been available since February 2020.
A £170 million fund to encourage more people to take the bus, making journeys greener, easier and more reliable was promised, which includes:
* local areas to apply to become Britain’s first fully electric bus town, receiving up to £50 million to make the switch. (Bristol was the winner.)
* £20 million to trial on-demand ride sharing services in rural and suburban areas
* £70 million for ‘Superbus’ networks (whatever these are) and
* £30 million to improve current services or restore lost routes
This is the sort of thing we should have for Hertfordshire too – and indeed some of these ideas are being looked at in our county, but there is very little practical uptake of any of any of these possible projects.
And of course, at £170m spread across the UK, the total sum available is pretty inadequate.
So let’s hope the bus companies will introduce electric vehicles themselves – it would certainly reduce maintenance and running costs – and also apply themselves to the basics, such as newer, up-to-date routes, simpler timetabling and effective, imaginative marketing.
The government clearly has a role to play in restoring confidence to public transport and encouraging greater use. One simple way to do this would be an increase in the Bus Services Operator Grants (BSOG) to subsidise fuel costs, but with a doubling or more in the Zero Emission Bus incentive (ZEB) from its current level of 22p per km* to 50p per km for electric buses. At that level that it would approximate to £15 support for a journey between Hemel Hempstead and Aylesbury.
Local county and unitary authorities do subsidise a number of routes that are considered of high social importance, but uneconomic for the bus companies to run commercially. Ten years ago, District and Borough authorities, like Dacorum Borough or Three Rivers District, used to subsidise a number of routes within their areas to improve access to and from out of town estates. Now under the pressure to reduce car travel and protect the environment, all local authorities should join in to make public transport cheaper and easier to use.
* equivalent to 7s 1¼d per mile