National & local news
Here we will highlight the latest news, local and national in public transport.
Shropshire council receives £46 million grant for electric buses
Press release on the funding and thoughts on it
Buses are in meltdown, but they remain vital to our future
An article published by TransportXtra on buses being vital to our future
Buses in post Covid 19 world
Professor, School of the Built Environment, Liverpool John Moores University
20th June 2020
Bus use has experienced a 90% decline since lockdown on 23rd March. In a period of coronavirus crisis and the fear of infection and strong messages to stay at home and to avoid using public transport unless it is essential, this is unsurprising.
DfT data on the use of different modes of transport, day by day, since 1 March 2020 shows bus use (selected days only) as percentages of equivalent day or week:
All data are percentages and exclude London
Cycling was 105% on 9.3.20 and 309% on 14.6.20
The "lockdown" decline follows a general long term decline in bus use linked to a number of societal trends, reductions in bus services, budget cuts and a planning system that promotes car dependency and neglects access to public transport, walking and cycling. DfT statistics reveal that outside of London we all took 46 bus trips pa in 2002 and 33 in 2018.
The shock to bus use in the lockdown period is unprecedented and seriously damaging but not more so than the shock to pubs, cafes, restaurants and tourism in areas heavily dependent on tourism.
Inevitably after such a shock there will be questions about the future of bus services. It is relatively easy to construct a scenario that assumes the extinction of buses. Trips in urban areas can switch to cycling, uber services, autonomous vehicles and the much quoted WFH (working from home) Bus trips in rural areas can also be regarded as irrelevant and can be replaced by community transport based on social need, car-share schemes and an increase in car ownership and use.
There is an alternative scenario which has much stronger connections with a wide range of public policy objectives. Buses have a fundamentally important role to play in urban and rural life. They are much more space efficient than cars and they can replace space-inefficient cars. They can be organised in highly co-ordinated and sophisticated ways to maximise passenger use as is the case in Switzerland, Germany and Austria. Higher levels of bus use linked to a raft of what we used to call “smarter choices” and recent policy papers from the Transport for Quality of Life team, reduce congestion in urban areas, reduce climate damaging greenhouse gas emissions, assist all those who for whatever reason do not own a car or do not wish to use a car. Bus use also plays a role in public health policy and the reduction of non-communicable diseases e.g. obesity, cardio-vascular disease and diabetes.
Much improved bus use, much better buses (all electric and powered by renewables) are needed to support the policies that will improve public health, reduce air pollution which has contributed to the Covid-19 mortality total (42,000 on 18th June 2020) and deliver social justice so that access to the destinations we all need to reach are not rationed by income or car ownership.
The public health, decarbonisation and economic viability agendas all point to the importance of car-free towns and cities. Hereford and Shrewsbury should be car-free and that will depend on world-best bus services.
We call upon all politicians, government ministers, climate change organisations and public health bodies to support a significant increase in spending on buses, an increase in integration and co-ordination of buses and bus-rail connections and a clear strategy to deliver zero air pollution, zero carbon and zero deaths and injury in road traffic.
This will require a shift from the current privatised, market-driven, unco-ordinated pattern of bus service provision towards one that deliver integration, much improved value for money and accountability. This does not mean an end to the provision of bus services by those now operating bus services but it does mean the adoption of the organisational approach used in Germany (and other countries) to make sure that integration n and co-ordination are under the supervision of a public body.
We call upon the UK government and governments of Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland to follow the example of the new Irish government strategy
“20% of Ireland’s transport budget will go to walking and cycling while two-thirds of the rest will go to public transit.”
Buses are “small beer” compared to the enormity of the climate change crisis which is far worse than the Covid-19 crisis and the world needs to take note of the statement by Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency:
"The world has only six months in which to change the course of the climate crisis and prevent a post-lockdown rebound in greenhouse gas emissions that would overwhelm efforts to stave off climate catastrophe"
If we fail to promote buses as an intelligent response to the need to avert climate crisis and the need to avoid the post-lockdown rebound in car use we will have responded to one crisis (Covid-19) by creating the circumstances that will deliver the next and bigger crisis…the climate change crisis.
Vision to bring 3,000 hydrogen buses to the streets of the UK announced
Plans for a UK-built, 3,000-strong hydrogen bus fleet across the country, have been revealed by JCB heir Jo Bamford today, in a move he hopes can lead the nations' economic recovery.
Mr Bamford claims his plans are "an ideal option for a Government that needs to boost UK manufacturing at this critical time whilst radically reducing our carbon emissions and air pollution", and has already submitted his vision in a document to ministers.
Plans are being drawn up to introduce fleets of state-of-the-art buses – in which passengers benefit from USB charging points and more spacious seating – in places such as Aberdeen, London, Bimingham, Liverpool, Manchester, Brighton, Glasgow, Edinburgh and Belfast, with interest from relevant authorities.
Mr Bamford, who leads a green hydrogen production company, Ryse, and last year acquired Wrightbus, a UK manufacturer who have made the world's first hydrogen double decker bus, proclaims that zero carbon, UK-made hydrogen technologies must play a pivotal role in driving the British economy forward.
He believes that an urgent introduction of hydrogen buses will lead to a knock-on transformation of other heavy duty vehicles, such as lorries, trains, ships and even ambulances and police cars. This would have the potential to create and sustain hundreds of thousands of skilled, green collar jobs across the country.
Greenhouse gases released from transportation account for a third of the UK's total carbon emissions. Whilst battery powered vehicles are becoming a popular option for household cars, the lack of range and considerable weight make them practically impossible for heavy-duty forms of transport. There are also growing concerns about the mining practices used to find the materials for batteries, as well as what happens to them at the end of their life, with recycling rates lower than 5% in Europe and the US.
In Mr Bamford's vision, 3,000 hydrogen buses - about 10% of the UK's total fleet - could be silently moving around UK towns and cities by 2024. These vehicles will release only water vapour and save an estimated 280,000 tons of carbon dioxide each year, the equivalent of taking roughly 107,000 cars off the road a year.
Crucially, Bamford highlights, "the hydrogen used to power these vehicles will be completely green". His company Ryse is in the process of building the UK's first hydrogen production plant on the Kent coast. This will be powered by a near-by offshore wind farm and use electrolysis to produce hydrogen from water. Mr Bamford plans to build another four hydrogen production plants by 2025 to provide enough power for all 3,000 buses.
"Cities around the world are seeing massive reductions in air pollution as many vehicles have been kept off the road during the pandemic," said Mr Bamford.
"However, the reality is that if we just go back to how public transport has traditionally been run, levels of pollution will quickly rise again to the same levels as before the crisis. We have an opportunity with hydrogen powered transport to make a huge difference to air quality, and for UK jobs as well. With increased orders on this scale I could increase the workforce at Wrightbus by nearly 700%.
"UK-made hydrogen buses are ready to hit the streets today. We already have hydrogen buses in London, and 20 of Wrightbus' world-leading double deckers will be added to this later this year. We also have orders from Aberdeen, with many other areas becoming interested in our technology - in the UK and across the world".
Hundreds of local authorities have declared climate emergencies, and local politicians are becoming increasingly interested in the potential of hydrogen to power local transport.
Darren Shirley, Chief Executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "The Government has the opportunity to ensure continued progress on improving air quality and reducing carbon emissions from rural as well as urban transport through fostering a hydrogen-fuelled heavy vehicle industry. As part of the National Bus Strategy, and through the UK's Industrial Strategy, it should focus not just on battery electric, but the range of zero emission technologies that will benefit communities through cleaner air.
"It is clear that a range of technologies will be needed to take the UK's transport system to net zero carbon emissions. Battery electric is not going to be viable for all uses, so buses fuelled by green hydrogen will be necessary to serve longer ranges and rural routes, and hydrogen lorries to move heavier loads over longer distances."
The Government has recently committed a £5bn plan to boost local bus services, which a significant amount of this likely to be spent on replacing old diesel vehicles for modern, zero emission models.
Mr Bamford has set a clear challenge to the Government. "The UK missed the opportunity to become global leaders in battery technology, we must not repeat this mistake with hydrogen."
"We are already leading the world by making hydrogen buses and boilers. We have a real opportunity to back a sector that will create jobs, economic growth and allow us to claim position as global leaders in hydrogen transport technology.
"With countries across the world also looking to drastically cut their carbon emissions, let's build an industry that can sell zero carbon products, skills and innovation across the world. We can make significant progress on this in the next five years, but it must start with buses and it must start now".
Mr Bamford has asked the Government to set aside £500m - 10% of the National Bus Strategy fund - to unlock the UK's hydrogen industry. Roughly about £200m of this is needed to build the hydrogen production facilities and bespoke, zero emission transportation vehicles to take it to bus depots in city centres.
Another £300m is being called for to support a strategic financial incentive to enable operators to purchase them for the same price as a current diesel one. Mr Bamford said "The Government gives the public a subsidy to buy an electric car, why shouldn't a bus operator - who provides a vital service for the local community - be supported to buy a clean, green, UK-built hydrogen bus?".
BBC article on Coronavirus: Transport usage will change after lockdown.
The number of people using public transport in Britain's cities could be 20% lower than normal after the end of the coronavirus lockdown.
In London, commuters using buses and tubes could fall by as much as 40% from pre-lockdown levels.
Rail use could drop by 27%, a poll for transport consultants SYSTRA has found.
The survey results capture people's current attitudes about returning to work, but some changes may be carried on into the long term.
The results are bad news for the government, which wants more people to use public transport to cut emissions that are fuelling climate heating. It could lead to more people driving to work.
It's also challenging for public transport operators, which will face a sharp drop in income until public confidence returns.
Work from home
But the survey offers a glimmer of good news too. It suggests that of those expecting to reduce their use of buses and trains, 24% said they plan to work from home more, which will reduce emissions.
They said they wanted to save on the commute time and cost, and to strike a better work-life balance.
There's a major boost for video-conferencing, too. As many as 67% of people in the 1,500-strong survey said they believe virtual meetings will replace some or all business trips or meetings.
Katie Hall from SYSTRA said: "Our climate emergency has not been cancelled. There is no doubt that this situation has opened up different ways of working for many, but if people start rejecting public transport over the car for work and leisure trips - that's a massive step backwards. Public transport operators must rise to this challenge."
She said public transport operators must work hard to convince commuters that they'll be safe from the virus.
Plan for change
But she also said transport planners would need to think hard about how travel patterns may change permanently after lockdown.
The AA's head Edmund King told BBC News he expected that traffic levels would fall overall. That has implications for the government's £28bn roads programme which is predicated on 1% annual growth in transport demand.
There could also be a boom in walking and cycling in a population that may be more interested in health messages.
The government recently cut red tape on issuing urban road closures to allow councils to exclude cars and create space for walkers and cyclists more easily.
Cycle campaigners want cars excluded from major parts of cities on a permanent basis - which happened recently in Milan.
Shrewsbury big town plan
The Shrewsbury big townplan has many ideas for how the town should be redeveloped and public transport will be an important feature of it. Not just for local jobs, but also for local shops and onward transport such as rail and coach services.
A report by "Bus users Shropshire" can be viewed by clicking on the box below.