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  • Writer's pictureSafer Highways

Boost for buses as government takes more steps to support and decarbonise sector


Announcing the Bus Centre of Excellence and almost £3 million electric bus funding for Leicester.


A new initiative to upskill, recruit and retain a new generation of bus professionals, alongside support to help our bus sector get stronger, has been announced by the Roads Minister Richard Holden today (21 March 2023).


Backed by £815,000 in government investment, the new Bus Centre of Excellence will bring together expertise from local government, bus operators and industry to boost skills and diversity in the bus sector.


As pledged in the government’s National Bus Strategy, the new Bus Centre of Excellence will give life to a new generation of bus professionals to drive forward more reliable, affordable and cleaner bus services.


Hosted by the Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, it will provide training opportunities, direct access to resources and industry experts, as well as networking events to uplift the capacity and capability of the whole sector, working to encourage people to get back on the bus.


The Bus Centre of Excellence’s ambitions will complement the continued decarbonisation of the national bus fleet, improving the whole passenger experience, and today’s announcement comes as the government confirms £3 million for 18 brand new zero emission buses in Leicester.


The new buses will be manufactured in Northern Ireland by Wrightbus and operated by First Bus, supporting hundreds of high-skilled jobs and helping to grow the economy.

This latest investment means all diesel buses at the operator First Bus’s depot in Leicester will now be replaced with 86 electric buses funded by the Zero Emission Buses Regional Areas (ZEBRA), making Leicester home to one of the first bus depots in the UK to transition to fully electric. In total Leicester has benefitted from nearly £22 million funding from the ZEBRA scheme to support 114 electric buses.


Roads Minister Richard Holden said:


Buses are the backbone of our transport network, providing affordable travel for commuters, families, and pensioners, and providing an economic lifeline for towns and cities around the country.


This multimillion investment for Leicester’s clean transformation, coupled with the new Bus Centre of Excellence, will help drive the country’s bus sector recovery and provide passengers with cleaner, more affordable buses that run on time.


Zero emission buses are often cheaper to run, improving the economics for bus operators, and are more reliable, reducing repair costs and minimising delays.


The new ZEBs for Leicester build on the success of the existing ZEBRA scheme, which was launched in 2021 to allow local transport authorities to bid for funding for ZEBs zero emission buses and supporting infrastructure.


The move brings total government funding from the ZEBRA scheme to almost £300 million for up to 1,400 zero emission buses in England, taking the vision of a net zero transport network one step closer to reality.


Neil Johnstone, President, Chartered Institution of Highways and Transportation, said:

CIHT has a proven track record of delivering high quality continuing professional development for those working in the transportation sector. We are delighted to be the chosen partner to help work on improving this important sustainable transport mode.


This partnership (alongside other government initiatives) will see CIHT help to bring together a wide range of professional skills and knowledge from both the public and private sector to facilitate change to local infrastructure, service delivery and the sector across the country – with the ultimate aim of improving bus services.


Janette Bell, Managing Director at First Bus, said:


We’re absolutely delighted that Leicester will become one of our blueprint bus depots of the future, helping us to refine and iterate this new concept so we can roll it out across the rest of the UK. At First Bus, we’re continuing to trailblaze with our partners to ensure we meet our net zero targets, supported by co-funding from the Department for Transport.


As leaders in sustainable mobility, we are fully aligned with the government’s ambitions for a net zero carbon transport system. Through this co-funding with the ZEBRA scheme, we’re excited to electrify another 5 of our UK depots before March 2024, and look forward to introducing even more electric buses to our constantly growing fleet.


We cannot wait to see our customers’ reactions once the project is complete, as we know the difference this will make to the city. Electric really is the future and we’re glad we can take our customers on this journey with us.

The new Bus Centre of Excellence initiative follows the £155 million announced last month to continue supporting bus services up and down the country and providing affordable journeys by extending the popular £2 bus fare cap.


This brings the total government funding to protect buses at over £2 billion since the pandemic, with a further £1 billion invested to improve the quality of bus services through the Bus Service Improvement Plans.

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