£70m for first five Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas winners

First five Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas winners named

Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority, Kent County Council, Leicester City Council, Milton Keynes Council and Warrington Borough Council are the first five local authorities (LAs) that will receive money from an expanded Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme in England that is now worth £270m in 2021/22.

Approval of their respective business cases was contained in Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s Budget and Spending Review announcement on 27 October. All were submitted via the scheme’s fast-track mechanism. They collectively represent over £70m of ZEBRA money that will support up to 335 ZEBs.

Up to £50m of already-announced ZEBRA money is expected to go to bids made via the standard process. An additional £150m has now been allocated to the scheme for the 2021/22 financial year, taking the total to £270m, the Department for Transport has subsequently confirmed.

Of those successful LAs to have so far confirmed what sums they will receive, Kent County Council will get £9.5m; Milton Keynes Council £16m; and Warrington Borough Council around £21.5m. Leicester City Council’s business case called for around £19m and that for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority £4.3m, indicating that both have been allocated the respective sum applied for.

In Kent, 33 opportunity charged battery-electric single-deckers for the Fastrack bus rapid transit brand will be purchased by the LA. 28 of those are for the established Thameside network with five more for a new route in Dover, which is to commence in 2023.

First five Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas winners named
Kent County Council’s ZEBRA business case calls for 33 opportunity charged battery-electric single-deckers for Fastrack BRT routes

The Thameside Fastrack is to be expanded as part of the ZEBRA work. Its contract will be retendered in 2022 and hence the operator of the zero-emission buses is not yet known.

The vehicle type will be decided by competitive tender. Eight 450kW opportunity charging points will also be sourced alongside six “secondary” 50kW depot chargers.

In Milton Keynes, Arriva Midlands is the operator partner of the successful bid. The LA says that the first of almost 60 battery-electric buses will arrive in 2022. They will not convert Arriva’s whole fleet in the city, but all of those used on urban services there will transition to zero-emission, the operator says. It is understood that the Milton Keynes buses will be purchased by the LA. 

Work in Warrington that ZEBRA will now facilitate will see the municipally owned Warrington’s Own Buses fleet converted to battery-electric in its entirety, with 120 new vehicles to be procured as part of an extensive long-term business case. They will run from a new depot on Dallam Lane that will begin construction in December. It will include solar panels as part of a commitment to charge the buses with ‘green’ electricity.

Leicester City Council ZEBRA bid success
First (68) and Arriva (22) are set to operate 90 battery-electric buses in Leicester; six others will be utilised on a contracted service in the city

The business case submitted by Leicester City Council, meanwhile, calls for 96 battery-electric buses.

First Leicester and Arriva Midlands are the LA’s primary operator partners, accounting for 68 and 22 of those vehicles respectively, but six further examples will operate a route contracted to Centrebus. 

In Cambridge and Peterborough, the Combined Authority’s Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas business case centres on 30 battery-electric double-deckers for use in Cambridge on park-and-ride routes and a Citi-branded service.

Mr Sunak formally allocated an additional £355m to zero-emission buses. While reacting positively to the immediate funding, the Confederation of Passenger Transport was more reserved around that further money. It says that its scale beyond 2021 raises “serious questions” over the pace at which government plans to part-fund 4,000 ZEBs in England can be delivered.

Go-Ahead Group cautiously welcomed the further funding allocation to ZEBs. However, Managing Director of Business Development Martin Dean says that the transition to zero-emission can be made more financially sustainable if passenger numbers grow thanks to increased priority measures. Mr Dean adds that “a clear long-term roadmap” is required for bus fleet decarbonisation.