Transport Minister visits York to see zero-carbon fleet in action

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Baroness Vere (centre) with Marc Bichtemann (left), Managing Director of First York, Cllr Paula Widdowson and Cllr Andy D’Agorne, Deputy Leader of City of York Council. FIRST YORK

Transport Minister Baroness Vere has visited York to see progress in developing its zero emission Park & Ride bus fleet. She met with senior directors of First Bus and the Deputy Leader of City of York Council, which together operate the York Park & Ride network in the city.

The visit gave Baroness Vere the opportunity to hear about the effectiveness of local authority and operator partnerships, technology choices in the future of zero emission bus travel and funding models to enable investment.

She was also shown the Covid-safe travel measures First has put in place including daily deep cleaning of touchpoints throughout buses, use of long-lasting sanitiser and seat markings to help customers sit at a safe distance.

The Minister later travelled on one of the Metrodecker EV double-deckers which First Bus started to introduce this summer, with nine now in service from a total of 21 buses set to be operating by the end of October. First has invested £9.3m in the fleet, with funding support from City of York Council and the Office for Low Emission Vehicles (OLEV) within the Department for Transport (DfT).

When all the double-deckers are in service this will expand First’s zero-emission fleet on the York Park & Ride to 33 buses. It is estimated the 21 Metrodecker EVs will save more than 1.6 million kilos (1,600 tonnes) of CO2 emissions every year, based on an estimated 80,000km travelled.

Baroness Vere said: “It’s been excellent to be in York today to discuss the progress being made in growing the number of zero-emission buses on our transport network. Decarbonising transport is a key goal for Government, so it’s encouraging not only to see FirstGroup investing in zero-emission technology, but also to hear about the benefits it is bringing to local communities.”

Marc Bichtemann, Managing Director of First York, said: “We were delighted the Minister was keen to see our zero-emission fleet in action and discover at first hand the benefits this is bringing to York in improving air quality and reducing congestion.”

Baroness Vere took the opportunity to chat with customers using the York Park & Ride during a visit to its Askham Bar site, where she got behind the wheel of a Metrodecker for a driving lesson with First York’s driver training team.

There she also met staff responsible for operations and fleet supervising who have worked through the pandemic to keep key workers and those making essential journeys moving during lockdown and are now supporting First’s increase in services as bus usage grows.

City of York Council has submitted a bid to the DfT to become the first ‘all-electric town’ and receive funding to buy more electric buses. Deputy Leader and Executive Member for Transport, Cllr Andy D’Agorne, said: “We are committed to improving the air quality in the city and reducing greenhouse gas emissions as we move towards becoming a carbon neutral city by 2030. We are already working with bus operators across York to improve emissions standards to support our Clean Air Zone by the end of January 2021.

“We’re delighted that Transport Minister Baroness Vere was able to visit York and see the great progress we have been making. Achieving an entirely electric bus fleet would be an important step towards realising zero carbon emissions and cleaner air in York, keeping the city at the forefront of transport innovation.”

Cllr Paula Widdowson, Executive Member for Environment and Climate Change, commented: “Improving the city’s air quality has been an issue we have prioritised in York, from launching the UK’s first voluntary Clean Air Zone, to investing in initiatives across the city which aim to tackle air pollution including tree planting, an electric car charging network and electric waste vehicles.

“Expansion of the zero-emission double-decker fleet is amongst the most recent measures taken by the council to improve air quality in our bid to build a cleaner and greener city for the benefit of our communities and generations to come.”