Stagecoach sets out pathway to attracting passengers back to bus

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Twelve Stagecoach depots have been converted to accommodate zero-emission buses, with more planned for the future. RICHARD SHARMAN












Independent research shows that over a million new passengers could start using buses if the transition to zero-emission buses is done right, says Stagecoach

More than one million new passengers could be attracted to use the UK’s bus networks through the switch to zero-emission buses, according to a new report published by Stagecoach. Entitled ‘Road map to zero: the transition to Zero Emission Buses, what it means for people, and the journey to get there’ the report sets out an ambitious national vision for achieving the introduction of 100% zero-emission buses (ZEBs) across the UK.

The independent research and recommendations build on Stagecoach’s target of achieving a 100% zero-emission UK bus fleet by 2035 and the report is intended to support all bus operators in achieving this ambition as well as supporting the country’s net zero targets.

Looking at the challenge by focussing on the people who interact most with the bus network – both the public and the workforce – the report identifies the scale of the opportunity that electric buses present, showing how they can attract a new generation of bus users. The report suggests that over a million current non-bus users say they would start to use services if electric buses were introduced in their local area, as long as fares and frequency remain the same. Furthermore, over nine million current passengers say they would expect to use the bus more often.

The report highlights the significant operational and commercial challenges that all UK bus operators need overcome to achieve this, including upgrading infrastructure, electrifying all vehicles and depots, recognising the increased space and longer charging times that ZEBs will require; upskilling the workforce and attracting a new generation of people to highly skilled, green jobs in the bus industry, and; developing a long-term sustainable funding approach which reflects the increased costs of a ZEB compared to a diesel bus.

The research lays bare the importance of getting the approach to overcoming these challenges right. Stagecoach believes that getting the transition wrong could have significant consequences for passengers and the sustainability of the bus network. Independent polling carried out as part of the report shows that if fares were to increase by just 10% to fund the transition to zero-emission buses, more than 12 million passengers say they would use the bus less often. If the introduction of greener buses failed to improve either punctuality, frequency or passenger experience, the result could be over 14.5 million people left disappointed, it suggests.

The research highlights significant public support for the transition to ZEBs, finding that the public wants to see the introduction of greener buses, with 66% thinking that the move to zero-emission buses is a good thing. Transitioning to zero-emission buses is also believed to be likely to make the public have a more positive impression of their local bus operator. The report suggests a potential 268% increase in satisfaction towards their local bus operator amongst non-bus users after the introduction of ZEBs. It also states that the public recognises the scale of the challenge, with 53% considering that it will be hard or very hard for bus operators to shift to 100% ZEBs.

To meet passenger expectations, Stagecoach has proposed three core principles and 21 specific recommendations which will allow the industry to transition to 100% electric buses while increasing the number of passengers across the network.

Developed following a roundtable with industry stakeholders and policymakers, and reflecting the priorities of passengers, the principles identified from the report are:

  • Funding: The costs of the transition cannot fully be borne by passengers as patronage will fall further;
  • Customer experience: Passengers need to feel that the quality and reliability of service they receive when travelling by bus will improve with the introduction of green buses, rather than be put at threat;
  • Partnership: All stakeholders with an interest in delivering this vision need to work collaboratively to solve the barriers to rollout.
  • The report’s specific recommendations cover funding, infrastructure and operational changes, and workforce challenges, and include:
  • Bus operators, local authorities and national governments should work collaboratively to explore new or innovative long-term funding models, including local revenue raising solutions;
  • Bus operators should work with local authorities to promote the introduction of new ZEBs to ensure their introduction is effectively maximised as a potential trigger point for modal shift;
  • The bus sector should collectively promote new ‘green engineering apprenticeships’ to young people across the UK, securing a sustainable workforce of the future;
  • Local Transport Decarbonisation Partnerships should be established between different bus operators, electricity distribution network operators (DNOs) and local authorities to establish the gaps between existing grid capacity and that are required to achieve full ZEB rollout in each community;
  • The Government and Ofgem should assess the need for a new statutory duty on DNOs to prioritise grid infrastructure upgrades which have a significant social and community impact, such as bus charging infrastructure.

Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach, said: “This report demonstrates the prize that is in front of the country in terms of moving people out of cars and onto lower carbon forms of transport, if we get the transition to zero-emission buses right. Not only can we reduce emissions by transforming the environmental footprint of the bus fleet, but we can build a new generation of bus passengers.

“This is exciting news for bus operators, the wider industry, Government, local authorities and crucially for passengers. However, it’s clear that this is conditional on us all getting the transition right and ensuring that the priorities of passengers are put first.
“Our research makes clear that this transformational change needs to be done carefully. This road map is our contribution to the wider debate, setting out a plan that will support the whole sector make this a success. It’s clear that to achieve this we must take a collaborative approach that meets passenger expectations and focusses on improving the passenger experience. If we get this right there’s so much to gain, but if we don’t we risk setting back the transition to net zero.”

The recommendations in the report have been supported by leading voices across the sector including the Department for Transport, Scottish Government, Zemo Partnership, Campaign for Better Transport and Transport Focus.

Baroness Vere, Roads Minister said: “It’s wonderful to see such an ambitious vision from Stagecoach for a national zero-emission bus fleet. It’s clear public transport will be vital in our journey towards greener transport and zero-emission buses are a key part of this Government’s ambitions, as demonstrated by our commitment to support 4,000 zero-emission buses.”

The Rt Hon Norman Baker, Campaigns and Policy Advisor for Campaign for Better Transport, added: “It is great to see the enthusiasm within the bus industry for a determined move towards a zero-emission bus fleet. This reinforces the point that the bus is key to any strategy to tackle climate change and rightly positions the bus as part of the solution and a vehicle firmly grounded in the future. We welcome this report from Stagecoach.”