£200m falls short of saving Johnson's zero emission target


Prime minister Boris Johnson is set to fail in his pledge to deliver 4,000 zero emission buses to England's roads, despite the Department for Transport having another £200m to spend.

The DfT confirmed that there remains more than £200m of dedicated funding for zero emission buses over the Spending Review period (i.e. up to and including 2024-25), but would not give any details on how the cash will be used.

The department has faced criticism over a perceived lack of progress toward Boris Johnson’s pledge of 4,000 new zero emission buses. When ministers allocated £198m to the programme in March, the DfT claimed that the UK as a whole was ‘on track’ to meet the target, albeit without a target date.

It said the announcement brought the total number of funded zero emission buses in England ‘so far under this government’ to 2,000, with a further 600 funded in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland as a result of the block grant to the devolved administrations.

However, the DfT has said that buses funded by the devolved governments and by the Greater London Authority do not count towards the 4,000 bus target. This means that, based on the DfT’s own figures, only around 1,678 buses have so far been funded.

This includes the 943 and 335 buses funded by the £198m and by £71m 'fast track' fund respectively, plus ‘up to 300’ in Coventry and ‘100 buses funded by previous funding schemes’.

Based on the DfT’s calculation that the latest £198m will provide 943 buses, a further £205m would bring the total to around 2,650 – only two-thirds of the way to the target.

Campaigners have also pointed out that achieving the 4,000 bus target would still represent around a tenth of the buses used in Britain, although almost 8,000 are currently categorised as low emission.

Silviya Barrett, director of policy at Campaign for Better Transport, said: ‘Transport doesn't get much more sustainable than zero-emission buses, so the two rounds of funding are great news. But we are not even halfway to reaching the Government’s target of delivering 4,000 buses in England by the end of this parliament and the funding left may not be enough to get us there.

‘Even if it does, it still leaves approximately two thirds of the bus fleet to transition to zero and low emissions. With a date for ending the sale of petrol and diesel buses yet to be set, Government must continue supporting more areas to take up this supremely green transport mode.’

The remaining £200m cash for zero emission buses is part of a promised £355m of ‘new money’ announced in last autumn’s Spending Review and is in addition to nearly £198m announced in March.

A total of £270m was allocated in the financial year that has just ended, on top of £50m for Coventry to become the first ‘all-electric bus city’.

This bumper allocation for buses included £150m of the £355m announced in the Spending Review, boosting spending during the year from the £120m originally announced. This cash injection saw £71m allocated to the fast track option, followed by last month’s announcement of £198m for the standard track.

The remaining £200m will take total central government spending on zero emission buses over the parliamentary period to a promised £525m.

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