ZEBRA bus scheme is welcome – but other work still needed

ZEBRA bus scheme is welcome but other work is still required

Before Easter, the government announced the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas (ZEBRA) scheme to support the uptake of zero-emission buses in England. It is the largest funding pot ever allocated to bus decarbonisation, and it seeks to build on the lessons from the All-Electric Bus Town and Ultra-Low Emission Bus schemes.

ZEBRA continues the theme of focusing on a small number of areas to have the biggest impact on cost and effectiveness and to drive efficiency in infrastructure deployment to support zero-emission fleets. However, applicants should not shy away from putting in smaller bids that will support greater ZEB rollout in the future; it’s all about enabling the greatest number of ZEBs.

Importantly, ZEBRA is not limited to battery-electric, so areas seeking to use hydrogen power can bid. Nor does it require all operators within the given area to commit to purchasing ZEBs immediately, leaving future bidders with more flexibility.

Fast track for ZEBRA bus scheme welcomed by Zemo

Testing and certification of buses is also a requirement, with manufacturers needing a ULEB or ZEB certificate for all those funded. The latter is currently being developed by Zemo Partnership’s Bus Working Group. The first hydrogen fuel cell-electric bus test over the UK bus cycle will hopefully take place this summer, with the resulting certificate published on our website.

The inclusion of a fast-track process in ZEBRA at the last minute has been praised by the industry. With it raring to go, and time ticking on the 4,000 ZEB target by 2025, the guidance was changed to allow for funding to be allocated by the end of July, or as soon as a business case is agreed between the winning applicants and the Department for Transport.

‘Still work to do’ beyond ZEBRA bus scheme, says Partnership

With all this said, there is still plenty of work to be done in transitioning the industry to a fully decarbonised fleet. £120m is a lot of money, but with only 1% of the English fleet zero-emission today (excluding London), more funding rounds will be needed to continue to support the market.

Other pieces of the jigsaw are also required. The primary one on everybody’s mind is BSOG and ensuring that ZEBs receive a greater level of support compared to diesel. I would not bet my life on it, but we might actually see some changes to BSOG in England this year.

There are also areas of the market that are currently not supported directly by ZEBRA. It focuses on traditional single- and double-decker buses with more than 22 seats. Smaller minibuses have often been treated as a different sector, supported by schemes such as the Rural Mobility Fund.

Zemo pushing hard for minibuses’ inclusion in funding rounds

Zemo Partnership is making the case to either include these vehicles in future rounds or develop new funding streams to ensure that the market is encouraged to purchase the right vehicle for the chosen service.

With things moving at such a rapid pace thanks to COP26 in November, Zemo Partnership will continue to press for evidence-based policy and to ensure that government is aware of how the bus industry is adapting to meet the changes of an ever-evolving sector.