£5bn bus funding is welcome if it’s used properly

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Boris Johnson made a statement when he awarded to bus the bulk of a £5bn funding deal. Cycling will take a portion of that total, but when the detail is examined it is clear where most of the money will be spent.

So far, so good. 4,000 zero-emission buses, capped fares, ‘turn up and go’ networks and more sounds wonderful. And if administered properly, it undoubtedly will be.

But it must be hoped that away from the headline-grabbing announcement, steps will be taken to fund these improvements in the long term. Ongoing investment will be required to maintain much of what the Prime Minister is talking about.

Capped fares will require close attention. The industry knows a lot about the difficulties that come with unchecked governmental interference in fares through the concessionary travel scheme.

Many operators receive a pittance in reimbursement for those users. Such returns have contributed to the withdrawal of some routes and the (perhaps apocryphal) argument that it is possible to lose money while carrying a full load of passengers.

Fares apart, there stands to be a step change in how zero-emission buses are procured. On Tuesday morning it was almost possible to hear the ears of every bus manufacturer from here to Timbuktu prick up.

A study by Dutch consultancy Chatrou CME Solutions shows that in 2019, Western Europe and Poland combined accounted for deliveries of fewer than 1,700 battery-electric buses and just 28 hydrogen fuel cell-electric examples.

This week’s announcement may change the landscape for those technologies in Europe. The £5bn funding may be a defining moment in the history of the bus – if it’s handled correctly.