There was a great deal of attention paid recently at the excellent UK Bus Summit to the whole question of how the bus can impact on the world of clean air zones. There is in my view, a dawning conclusion amongst the political elite that slowly but surely they are beginning to see what many of us in the bus industry have come to realise for some years. That contrary to public opinion, the bus actually has a huge role to play in actually combating air quality. The problem in the past has been one of perception.
The average member of the public has suffered from the mis-lead belief that buses have been a key part of the dirty air problem. Images of old diesel buses coughing and spluttering their way through the streets, spewing out toxic fumes seems to have ingrained itself into the public mindset. However, in truth the industry has been very busy both independently, and in fairness with support from central and in some locations (through good working partnerships) local government to promote non fossil fuel buses. The explosion in hybrid and greener fuels coupled with a silent revolution with electric buses has resulted in a real change in recognising the vital role the bus has to offer.
The truth is that the government have offered £40 million to retrofit buses in 20 local authorities across the UK, all designed to turn around the older vehicles that have been using diesel engines, and the reality is that the modern technologies have been able to reduce the toxins that fossil based fuels inevitably produce. This will actually impact on a massive 2,768 buses across the length and breadth of the UK. All of which is excellent, this is also being backed up by the implementation of penalties for vehicles that do not conform. Be they private cars, white vans, and LGV and HGV. So, all motorists are accountable, if they do not conform it hits them straight in the pocket. The Mayor of London has accelerated the role out and is bringing it forward to 2019 compared tp 2021, with large swathes of London North and South being included within the zones.
So, all great stuff but are we really getting the greater public on board as Professor David Begg pointed out there is a small window to show the benefit of promoting the bus, but and this is critical it must be evidence based. In addition it needs to be exempt from the usual football of political interference.. The reality is that we need people to spread the word and really identify the real enemy from within and that is cars and vans that are diesel driven. For years politics has been more than happy to support the power of the motorist, but, and this is key. There is now a subtle change taking place as more people realise the danger of the car and van and the value of the bus. We need to ensure that we champion this message that the likes of David Begg and Claire Haigh have proven, they cannot and should not do this in isolation.