Want to cut greenhouse gases and drive growth? Get the nation on board with buses
David Brown, Chief Executive of Go-Ahead wants to press on with helping the Government build a clean, green network for the 21st century and reposition the bus at the centre of efforts to connect more people, reduce greenhouse gases and drive growth across the country.
Not so long ago, if a senior public figure described themselves as a ‘bus fanatic’, they were likely to be mocked and granted the status of a fringe obsessive, somewhere alongside the train-spotter or stamp collector.
So it feels revolutionary to hear our Prime Minister do just that.
In the space of a few weeks Boris Johnson has spoken of his love for the bus and his vision of a ‘clean, green’ fleet connecting the country.
There is a welcome new spirit of public enthusiasm flowing from the corridors of power. The most senior figures in this government are spreading the message of the ability of buses to cut congestion, improve air quality and provide a low-cost way for millions to get to work.
It was with these goals in mind that the Chancellor spent time at the recent Conservative Party Conference proudly boasting of pledging £220m towards new bus infrastructure, the rollout of new low-emissions buses, providing better service and better value for money for passengers.
As one of the UK’s largest bus operators, Go-Ahead does not need convincing on these matters. These are the same arguments that we have been making.
We know that every double-decker bus on the road today can take up to 75 single occupant cars off the road, cutting the emissions generated by those vehicles and reducing traffic.
We have also argued that, for many people, the bus is essential for getting around. Some two-thirds of all public transport journeys are taken by bus today.
Yet despite this, passenger numbers have fallen from 2.4 billion to 2.1 billion a year over the past ten years given significant council spending cuts.
It’s why Go-Ahead led the way earlier this year in calling for a National Bus Strategy – to put the bus on a par with the train and plane in Whitehall policy meetings.
And now we want to press on with helping the Government build a clean, green network for the 21st century – to reposition the bus at the centre of efforts to connect more people, reduce greenhouse gases and drive growth across the country.
We know that it is possible to cut carbon emissions per passenger by 30 percent in just three years, or buy energy exclusively from renewable sources. After all, Go-Ahead is already doing both.
And we know that this should be just the start, not least because the costs of inaction are so high.
According to the World Health Organisation, air pollution kills an estimated 4.2 million people worldwide every year. As a public transport operator, we have shown that we can be part of the solution to these problems.
In Southampton, Go-Ahead’s air-filtering buses actively improve air quality by removing a particulate pollutant – PM10 - through a unique filter mounted on their roof.
A 100 day pilot found that just one vehicle could strip as much as 65g of pollutants from thin air. That’s roughly the weight of a tennis ball.
We are planning to roll this unique technology out to six other regions across the UK – literally cleaning the air we as drive.
Last month, in Brighton, Go-Ahead rolled out a new generation of electrically driven buses that switch to zero-emissions mode while in the city centre, near schools and hospitals, safeguarding air quality while providing vital connections in a bustling urban centre.
At the same time, we’re making it easier for passengers.
Across the South of England, we’ve launched the UK’s most ambitious contactless Oyster-style ticketing scheme, bringing London-style fare caps to passengers.
Delivering high quality public transport services is a shared responsibility between operators, local authorities and national government. No one party has all the solutions.
When the Chancellor took to the stage last month to proudly declare the first steps towards a true long-term National Bus Strategy, it was the promise of new “superbus” networks that exemplify this requirement for collaboration.
The plan is that government will help local authorities partner with bus companies, with increased investment going towards more bus lanes, and operators running more services.
This is a welcome proposal, and one that we hope will spur more local authorities into action.
Because if we want operators to roll out more, and better local services, it is critical that we look at improving the priority offered to buses in towns and cities throughout the UK through true partnerships.
For a start, councils need to start using the powers they have to tackle blockages in bus lanes – allowing us to cut journey times.
It is clear this is something that is understood in Downing Street. As Boris Johnson himself has said: “There’s barely a transport problem you can’t solve without a single decker bus.”
Now is the time to act – and to get the nation on the buses.
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