Mellor has questioned the decision made by the Department for Transport (DfT) to exclude minibuses with a capacity of less than 23 passengers from the Zero-Emission Buses Regional Area (ZEBRA) scheme in England.
The Rochdale manufacturer – which builds the 16-passenger battery-electric Orion E – says it supports the government’s funding for zero-emission public transport. But it believes that excluding minibuses from ZEBRA gives the scheme a “big bus bias.” Mellor adds that DfT has “lost sight” of growing demand for smaller buses and it is thus calling on DfT and Zemo Partnership to reconsider the decision.
Mellor believes that DfT’s failure to include minibuses in the scope of ZEBRA “fundamentally disregards the needs of smaller bus operators, including those concerned with rural routes, community groups and others in their efforts to transition to sustainable, zero-emission operations invariably delivered by smaller, size-appropriate buses.”
The competitive ZEBRA scheme will provide up to £120m towards the capital costs of zero-emission buses and their associated infrastructure. Bids will be led by local authorities. DfT has indicated that it expects each successful submission to receive between £25m and £35m.
ZEBRA is a first step on the road to delivering ambitions outlined in the recently published National Bus Strategy for England. The exclusion of minibuses from ZEBRA’s scope is contained within point 3.14 of the scheme’s expressions of interest document.
Mellor has also questioned how the decision fits with Zemo Partnership’s intention to bring together the widest range of stakeholders with a shared vision for cleaner transport. It says that the Orion-E is “a perfect candidate” for capital funding via ZEBRA.
Mark Clissett, Bus Division Managing Director of Mellor parent Woodall Nicholson, says it is “grossly unfair” to exclude the small bus segment from ZEBRA.
He adds: “We can clearly see a big bus bias here, with funding set aside exclusively for fleet operations with larger vehicles in major towns and cities.
“Decarbonisation of the bus sector is essential if we are serious about improving air quality. It seems short-sighted to have been given another opportunity to look forward positively with a raft of government-backed initiatives, yet we are withholding funds for vehicles that deliver essential services.
“At the very least, all stakeholders should be given the opportunity to judge for themselves the positive impact that zero-emission, size-appropriate vehicles can make to our bus network.”