As the Department for Transport (DfT) confirmed its second round of its Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA2) programme last week, the £129m funding attached to it came as a source of hope for a large number of English regions that are looking to cut their CO2 emissions but at present have limited resources to do so.
The aim of the game is faster roll-out of electric and hydrogen buses across the country – or, more specifically, outside London – and the second round of the scheme will help towards that end, with a wider pool of regions and communities now eligible.
There is one challenge that funding alone cannot solve, however, that being the task of planning infrastructure, navigating the application process and completing the operational roll-out of vehicles. But the timescales for applications for ZEBRA2 are very tight, with local transport authorities required to apply by mid-December. Once funding is announced, orders must be placed with vehicle manufacturers by the end of January 2025.
With just 17 out of 48 eligible regions having received funding during the first round of ZEBRA, these are clear barriers to funding uptake in regions that would – with the right technical support – otherwise be eager to put these vehicles on the road.
It’s the British countryside and the residents of our towns and cities in particular that stand to benefit, from improved air quality and an all-round more attractive passenger experience.
The good news in particular about the new-look ZEBRA2 is that it will prioritise £25m for rural communities, in a similar vein to ScotZEB2, given the importance of funding for remote areas in which building green bus infrastructure can be more expensive.
Minibuses that carry between nine and 22 passengers have also been included in the new package, boosting the opportunities for SMEs and organisations that play a vital role across society. SMMT is still awaiting the results of the licence changes consultation carried out earlier this year which, it is hoped, will allow standard driving licence holders to drive minibuses, safely increasing the pool from which minibus drivers can be recruited.
ZEBRA2 will also fund some 75% of total infrastructure capital expenditure, which can be a major barrier for a sector that operates within naturally tight margins. As such, the scheme represents forward progress for Britain’s bus, coach and minibus sector, not just towards decarbonisation but also for levelling up, boosting road transport services and growing ridership levels.
It requires a holistic approach with input from all stakeholders, and next week’s SMMT Electrified will be another key step, bringing together industry leaders, government and the media to discuss the key issues facing the UK automotive sector as we edge closer to achieving our green targets. We’re expecting a full house on the day and I look forward to catching up with SMMT members and stakeholders there.