UK BUS SUMMIT, 8th February 2018 QEII Conference Centre, Westminster

UK BUS SUMMIT, 8th February 2018 QEII Conference Centre, Westminster
Greener Journeys logo Published on: 10th February 2018 by Claire Haigh.

Session 1: The role of bus in reducing emissions

Claire Haigh, Chief Executive Greener Journeys

We are facing a public health emergency.  It may be too early to quantify just how serious our air quality crisis is, but we already know that it’s causing 50,000 early deaths a year.  Whilst not as visible as the deadly smog that brought London to its knees in the 1950s, air pollution today looks set to be every bit as lethal.  Toxic NOx emissions have been linked to conditions as diverse as cancer, asthma, strokes, heart disease, diabetes and dementia.

The question is – are we doing enough to tackle the problem, and are we acting fast enough?

This is a crisis which affects all of us, and we all have our part to play – that’s Government at all levels, business and consumers.  A particularly heavy burden falls on road transport as it is the single greatest contributor to harmful NOx emissions in the UK.

So let’s look at those road transport emissions.  The sheer volume of traffic on our roads is the biggest problem.  Congestion isn’t just a drag on the economy, it kills.  In nose to tail traffic tailpipe emissions increase fourfold.  At 41% the largest share of road transport emissions is caused by diesel cars, followed by diesel vans at 30%.  Buses and coaches are responsible for 6%.

Whilst it is essential that all modes of transport clean up their act, equally it is crucial that tackling congestion is the cornerstone of air quality strategy and that interventions are targeted at the highest polluters.  And it is the responsibility of central Government to set the right framework for this to happen.

But before we look at the role of central Government, let’s first examine the role of the bus sector. Are we as a sector keeping our side of the street clean?  Are we fully playing our part?

The answer to the first question is – yes.  Progress in clean bus technology has been phenomenal and far outstripped that of car technology which has been dogged by emissions testing scandals.  Real world testing of modern Euro VI buses shows 95% fewer emissions than the previous generation.  Currently a Euro VI bus produces fewer emissions overall than a Euro 6 car despite having up to 20 times the carrying capacity.

The answer to the second question will depend.  For the bus sector fully to play its part Clean Air Zones need to embrace bus travel as a fundamental part of the solution.

So let’s come back to the role of central Government.  What can Government do to ensure that Clean Air Zones are a success?  

Unfortunately, current Government guidance falls short of what is required to bring air pollution down to within legal limits.  It directs councils to target older, diesel buses as the top priority for new clean air regulations, followed by HGVs, then vans, with private cars only to be impacted as a last resort.  But this is in the exact reverse order of NOx contribution.

While buses must rightly play their part in our mission to limit emissions, Clean Air Zones cannot possibly succeed without action to curb the biggest polluters.

The quickest and most effective route to clean air is to include diesel cars and vans in CAZs, put Euro VI standard buses at the centre of plans and to encourage modal switch from car to sustainable transport. 

Government has repeatedly shied away taking any decisions which will anger motorists.  But on this most serious issue it must show leadership and provide clear guidance which reflects actual NOx contributions. Passing all the responsibility for tough political decisions to local councils will not be sufficient.

Central and local government must also work with the bus sector to support the upgrading of older vehicles to Euro VI standard.  We encourage local authorities to seek implementation funding for this.  Bus retrofitting is an extremely cost-effective solution and costs as little as £12 per kilogram of Nitrogen Oxides saved – 15 Times less than car diesel scrappage.

Finally, Clean Air Zones must be designed to encourage modal shift from private cars to more sustainable transport such as buses, walking and cycling.  This will not only reduce pollution but will bring wider health benefits as people engage in more active travel and become less dependent on their cars.  Buses are an inherently efficient way to travel.  A fully loaded double decker bus can take 75 cars off the road, reducing both congestion and pollution.

There is a lot at stake here. 

CAZs that don’t put buses at their heart will not only fail to bring to emissions down to within legal limits but will worsen congestion and lead to increased levels of social deprivation.  Measures which damage bus networks have severe consequences for job seekers, people on low incomes, the young, the elderly and the most vulnerable in society.

But equally there is also a lot to gain. 

KPMG has undertaken in depth analysis of the bus market and the value of investment in bus.  Their latest analysis shows that investment in local bus infrastructure can deliver more than £8 of net wider economic benefit for every £1 invested.

And let’s not overlook the huge potential boon to UK manufacturing. 

Britain’s bus manufacturers are a global success story and a major contributor to our engineering base.  80% of urban buses are manufactured in the UK compared with just 13% of new cars.

If ever there was a moment to capitalise in the value of the bus, it’s now.

This is why we are urging all of you to join the fight for Clean Air and pledge your support for modern, clean diesel buses.  You will have passed a Euro VI standard bus on the way in.  Please do join us on board to have your photo taken with our pledge board and help us send a clear message to Government that buses must be at the heart of air quality strategies.

There is a lot at stake, and a lot to gain.  Central Government must not shirk its responsibility.  In 1956 the Government did eventually rise to the challenge and passed the first ever Clean Air Act.

No less is asked of our Government today.

About the Author

This post was written by Claire Haigh. Claire is CEO of Greener Journeys & Executive Director of the Transport Knowledge Hub

Claire Haigh