Having reviewed the detail and commitments in the Zero Emission buses and coaches section of the Transport Decarbonisation Plan (TDP) it is clear that, maybe unsurprisingly, it is heavily reliant and references back to government the National Bus Strategy (Bus Back Better) released in March this year.

As a reminder, the crux of Bus Back Better is to deliver Zero Emission ambitions through a bus delivery structure that places a focus on partnerships between Local Transport Authorities and bus operators.

Under this structure Statutory Partnerships will be formed between the LTA and bus networks to deliver Bus Service Improvement Plans (BSIPs). The BSIPs will focus on a range of areas to enhance bus services including increases in bus priority, lower, simpler and multi-modal fare structures, clear information for passengers and, importantly, the decarbonisation of fleets.

In addition to the TDP reminding us of key policies in the Bus Back Better strategy there are also further reminders of the need for urgency in respect of delivering this structural transformation. Perhaps one of the starkest statements in the TDP is that “only 2 of England’s local operator bus fleet is zero emission today”.

The speed of the programme for change coupled with the significant cost of fleet transformation means that the committed funding from government is vital help in achieving some quick wins. The menu of funding pots available for authorities is therefore of real use (though clarity in respect of application for some of the funds remains a concern):

  • Government investment in £3bn for buses in England outside of London – support at least 4,000 new zero emission buses
  • All-Electric Bus City (£50m funding granted to Coventry)
  • Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (£120m through 2021-22)

Although welcomed by the sector, the promised government funding is by its nature limited and will be focused on key target towns and cities. Encouragingly though the private sector is making great strides in working to deliver the national zero emission ambitions. Recent announcements from some of our largest bus operators indicate that government consultation on phasing out of diesel bus and coaches should be a relatively collaborative exercise, for example:

  • First Bus has committed to invest in only zero-emission vehicles from December 2022 and a net zero bus fleet by 2035
  • Abellio has completed major roll out of electric fleets in London in partnership with Zenobe
  • Go-ahead has committed to a net zero bus fleet by 2035
  • National Express has committed to a net zero bus fleet by 2030

In some cases, these commitments are being made achievable through new bus procurement models that see third parties (investors, energy companies, EV charging infrastructure companies) packaging up products to deliver “E-Bus as a service”. This lease style fleet arrangement means that the significant capital required does not fall exclusively with operators but can be provided by investors on the basis it will be recoverable from the operators over the period of the E-bus lease. This is a model that we have seen successfully delivered in the rail sector and has resulted in the national overhaul of rolling stock fleets over the last decade or so.

There’s clearly a huge amount of work for government, LTAs and operators to do collectively to meet the bus and coach net zero challenge. We look forward to seeing more of the net zero projects as they are rolled out and playing our part as legal advisors in the market to allow us to collectively meet these ambition targets.