Decision status: Recommendations Approved
Is Key decision?: No
Is subject to call in?: No
Zero Emission Bus Scheme
At the Leader’s request in advance of the meeting, the Chair invited the Executive Portfolio Holder for Economy, Enterprise & Transport to provide an update on the Zero Emission Bus Scheme. He conveyed the very challenging news that Arriva had opted not to progress with the Zero Emission bus scheme in Stevenage.
The Portfolio Holder advised that the Council had been recently notified, by Hertfordshire County Council (HCC), that Arriva planned to withdraw from the Government-funded Zero Emissions Bus programme. This was very difficult news for the town, local commuters, and those of Members and officers of the Council who had been working very hard to tackle the climate crisis.
The Portfolio Holder reminded Members that the Government had awarded funding to the HCC and Arriva partnership in March 2022, as one of 12 areas that could bring forward electric or hydrogen buses. Nationally, this was intended to deliver 943 zero emission buses, from a national fund of £196M. For Stevenage, this would have meant 27 new, electric, modern and state of the art buses. At the time, this investment was greatly welcomed by the Council as, with a first-rate new bus interchange and new buses, there was an outstanding opportunity to help tackle climate change, and provide the high quality public transport that local people deserved.
The Portfolio Holder commented that this
followed news from Milton Keynes at the end of 2022, where Arriva
had pulled out of the electric bus funding programme planned there
The Portfolio Holder stated that the Council was led to believe that lower than expected passenger numbers had made it difficult for Arriva to justify their business case of match funding the Government’s investment. Without question it was a very challenging time for local buses. While the overall number of journeys that people made was starting to recover to the 2020 level, it was reported that there had been a slower return of passenger numbers for some local buses, as well as the train network.
The Portfolio Holder was of the view that a good, well-functioning bus network was vital for the town’s economy. Indeed, around half of all public transport trips were made on buses. In Stevenage there had been some very difficult impacts, including too few drivers, disruption and delay to bus services. The Council offered its support to local bus drivers who were doing a great job keeping the town on the move. However, it was also clear that the country, and Stevenage, needed a properly funded bus strategy. Without investment into new, climate friendly, and regular buses, a difficult future was envisaged. It was vital the Government learnt lessons from this zero emissions programme, recognised the damage caused by a lack of drivers and funding, and came up with a long-term plan to protect and improve buses.
The Portfolio Holder advised that officers were engaging with HCC, who had led this bid, to help consider if there were any solutions or routes forward.
The Executive was extremely disappointed to receive this news, especially in the light of Arriva’s supposed long-term commitment to climate change issues.
Publication date: 17/03/2023
Date of decision: 15/03/2023
Decided at meeting: 15/03/2023 - Executive