Buses: playing a vital role in reducing emissions
9 January 2017 | Author: Claire Haigh, Chief Executive, Greener Journeys

Greener Journeys was formed in the aftermath of the 2008 Climate Change Act, against a backdrop of a heightened focus on the carbon reduction agenda and at a time when buses were regarded as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

The perception at the time was that while cars were getting cleaner and greener, buses were polluting and burning more fuel. The fact that increased fuel consumption was the direct result of buses becoming heavier to provide customer enhancements and meet accessibility requirements mandated by legislation did little to shift the poor image of the bus. And there was very little focus on the potential carbon reduction benefits of modal switch.

It has been to address this last point that much of Greener Journeys' work has been targeted. We have chiefly focused on the importance of demand-side measures as a way to reduce carbon emissions. The best used bus services in urban areas are reducing carbon emissions by up to 75% through modal switch.

This year, however, we have looked in depth for the first time at the buses themselves. It has come as something of a revelation to realise the full extent to which a quiet revolution in bus technology has been under way. As the latest report for Greener Journeys by the Low Carbon Vehicle Partnership (Low CVP) demonstrates, huge technological progress has been made in reducing vehicle emissions.

Several rounds of the Green Bus Fund and considerable private sector investment has meant that there are now 3,760 officially-defined Low Carbon Emission Buses (LCEBs) operating in England, Scotland and Wales, accounting for 40% of all new buses bought last year. They demonstrate a diverse and innovative range of fuels and technologies suited to different operational needs – ranging from electric to hybrid, and biomethane through to hydrogen fuel cell.

LCEBs are not only saving 55,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually, but in 2016 saved an estimated £8m in so-called "air quality damage costs" – a government measure which calculates the cost of pollution to society, for example through harm to human health and the environment.

The focus today is no longer just on the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Air quality has really shot up the agenda. And with official limits on oxides of nitrogen being breached in 38 out of 43 zones in the UK, a comprehensive strategy for tackling air quality has never been more urgent.

The issue of air quality has serious and far-reaching implications for all parts of the transport network. For its part, the bus sector is under pressure to tackle harmful emissions arising from older diesel buses. It is fair to say, though, that attention given to these older buses by the media can sometimes obscure the fact that the latest Euro VI engines are a huge success story. Moreover, the rigorous testing regime for buses means that an equivalent of the Volkswagen emissions testing scandal would be inconceivable in the bus sector.

As Low CVP highlighted in its previous report for Greener Journeys, real-world testing of the latest Euro VI diesel engines demonstrates a 95% reduction in NOx emissions compared with their older Euro V counterparts. And SMMT figures reveal that three times as many Euro VI buses were sold last year as in 2014.

There is an urgent need both to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to improve air quality. The Government's recent ratification of the Paris Agreement demonstrates the UK's continued commitment to tackling climate change, even if 2008 was the highwater mark for UK international leadership. Meanwhile, the recent High Court ruling that government plans to tackle air quality are inadequate will rightly focus minds and intensify pressure on this issue.

The bus has a key role to play in addressing both challenges. As the latest Low CVP report demonstrates, enormous progress has been made in developing bus technologies to reduce emissions. There is still a way to go and, as the report makes clear, continued government support will be essential if progress in the introduction of low emission technology is to be maintained. In the meantime, the immediate opportunity is to capitalise on the technological advances made by encouraging modal switch. Not only will this reduce emissions, but it will also mitigate the inexorable rise of congestion on our roads.

The biggest challenge is to reduce car use. The decision in the autumn statement to cancel (once again) a planned fuel duty increase will only make that harder to achieve. The cheap costs of motoring are drawing people away from public transport. If the UK is to make any real headway in tackling both the carbon and air quality challenges, the Government is going to have to make it less convenient and more expensive for people to drive.

Reference: Transport Times December 2016 Issue

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Claire Haigh, Chief Executive, Greener Journeys will be speaking the Transport Times Conference The UK Bus Summit on the 9th February in London. For more information and how to book places at the event please click here. 

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