CPT’s Alison Edwards: Buses & coaches for cleaner air 05/10/2020

Ahead of Clean Air Day on Thursday 8 October, we will be bringing you a series of guest blog posts highlighting the role buses & coaches can play to help clean up the air we breathe. First up is CPT’s Head of Policy Alison Edwards, who writes about the improvement seen in air quality during lockdown, and the measures we need in place to keep buses and coaches out of traffic.

Every year, air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK.  The World Health Organisation and the UK Government recognise that air pollution is the largest environmental health risk we face today.

The Centre for Research and Clean Air has calculated that, during April 2020, the drastic reduction in private car usage led to a reduction in deaths of around 1,700 as a result of improved air quality. The challenge is to try and capture these benefits for the longer term. We are already seeing car use getting back to pre-Covid levels, and a continuation of this trend would seriously undermine both air quality goals and net zero ambitions.

Buses and coaches are the greenest vehicles on our roads and have a crucial role to play in helping to meet the Government’s targets on improving air quality. Bus operators have invested £2 billion in new cleaner and greener buses over the last five years, meaning the UK now has its cleanest ever bus fleet, and a new bus or coach carrying 50 or more passengers emits less nitrogen oxides than a brand new diesel car. When you couple that with the number of cars that a full bus or coach can take off the roads – as many as 75 for a double decker, or over two miles of traffic - it is clear that if we want to make a real impact on roadside emissions we need to get people out of their cars and travelling by bus and coach.

Measures which keep buses and coaches out of traffic are key to achieving a shift from car. These measures can range from improved coach facilities, dedicated bus lanes or park and ride schemes through to small scale junction improvements and bus priority at junctions and traffic lights. Bus priority measures save money for bus operators - a 10% decrease in bus speeds increases operating costs across the bus network by £400m a year - and operators have pledged to reinvest savings made through bus priority measures in improving services for passengers.  Coach travel to visitor attractions is frequently hampered by poor access, lack of coach parking and general coach facilities. This can lead to increased car use, so it is important that this is challenged to make coach travel the more accessible and appealing option.

CPT has called on the Government to target at least £1.2bn of the £3bn set aside for bus services earlier this year on measures to give the bus priority on our roads. The payback for this could be huge – studies suggest this £1.2bn could reap £6bn in benefits ranging from better access to jobs and services through to health benefits, improved air quality and reduced carbon emissions.

Now is the time to really promote the bus and coaches - alongside walking and cycling – as the transport choices of the future.

Find out more about Clean Air Day here.