Oxfordshire looks to an electric bus future

Bus users in the Oxford area could benefit from new, zero emission electric buses as Oxfordshire County Council prepares to take part in a new government funding competition in a bid to work towards reducing carbon emissions and offering cleaner air for all.

At the council’s June Cabinet meeting, officers will recommend the submission of an expression of interest in the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme, in support of the government’s Road to Zero Strategy for transition to zero emission transport by 2050.

Councillor Tim Bearder, Oxfordshire County Council’s Cabinet Member for Highway Management, said: “This bid marks a step-change in our aspirations. The new alliance now leading the council recognises that zero-emission buses are an essential part of meeting our climate goals. We must also cut air pollution, reduce noise and provide more frequent reliable bus services. This ambitious submission to the government's funding competition does all of that. It is an unequivocal demonstration of our commitment and shows that we are prepared to take radical steps to get us there.”

Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company Managing Director, said: “This project represents a major investment by bus operators and demonstrates our long-term commitment to continuing to improve air quality in our city, in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council. There is a lot to do to ensure delivery, including gaining confirmation of the additional government funding, and introducing a number of the bus priority schemes in Connecting Oxford to overcome congestion and ensure buses can be fully effective.”

Rachel Geliamassi, Managing Director for Stagecoach West, said: “Buses will play a key role in the country’s green recovery and supporting the delivery of cleaner air in Oxford.

“There is a huge opportunity ahead to reduce carbon emissions from transport by moving people out of cars and onto buses. Investment in electric buses, which is an exciting step forward for the city, alongside practical measures to give buses more priority on the road can all help to encourage more people onto sustainable public transport and support the ambition for a cleaner Oxford.”

Up to £120 million is being made available by the government through the scheme, which will allow local transport authorities to bid for funding to purchase zero-emission buses, reduce the carbon emissions from local public transport and improve air quality in towns and cities. The funding will deliver up to 500 zero-emission buses across the country, supporting the government’s wider commitment to introduce 4,000 zero-emission buses.

Under the proposals being prepared for an Oxfordshire bid, an area across Oxford city and the surrounding area would be covered by the electric fleet from Kidlington in the north to Sandford-on-Thames in the south, and from Cumnor in the west to Wheatley in the east.

The ambitious proposals would cost potentially £78.3 million in total, with around £41m coming from the city’s two main bus operators (Oxford Bus Company and Stagecoach), £31.68m from the government, and up to £6m from the county council.

The announcement comes at a time when both city and county councils are set to implement a Zero Emission Zone this August in the city centre. The support offered by this bid would be a significant boost to helping reduce emissions from public transport and improving services for passengers.

Cabinet will be asked to approve the submission of an expression of interest for the scheme and agree funding of up to £6m in 2022/23 towards the scheme when it meets later this month.