Driving towards cleaner air 08/10/2020

Our fourth clean air themed blog is by Natalie Littlehales, senior campaigns manager for National Express West Midlands and Coventry. Natalie writes about National Express’ commitments to improving air quality, and how now is the chance to make things better.

Back in February we outlined a vision to become the UK’s most sustainable bus company, with our fleet becoming fully zero emission from 2030. We simply believe this is the right thing to do for our customers, the communities we serve and our stakeholders. That date might not seem too far away but we’ve already made fantastic progress.

Our existing vehicles have been converted to Euro VI engines and we’ve committed to never buying another diesel bus. In July we managed to get our first electric vehicle fleet out in Birmingham, and a second out in Coventry during September. These vehicles produce zero carbon emissions at the tailpipe and are powered by renewable energy while coming with all the top-spec kit like USB chargers and free wifi. Just this week we announced that we will also be operating hydrogen double deckers in Birmingham from 2021. The plan is to learn which routes lend themselves to hydrogen buses and what the mix of vehicles in our fleet should be going forward.

2020 has proven that our air can be much cleaner when habits change; for example April saw levels of poisonous nitrogen oxides in Birmingham fall by over a third! These levels are creeping up again as more people go back to their cars - and we know the effects of pollution fall harder on people on lower incomes so something needs to be done quickly. A survey carried out by Transport for West Midlands showed that three key things people wanted as a legacy of Covid-19 were cleaner air, quieter roads and a better work-life balance. We have shown that services can be faster and more reliable when more considered choices are made. For example, a nurse living in Northfield gets the bus to Birmingham to work at the Children's Hospital. Before March, they would have spent an average of 51 minutes on the bus in heavy traffic, during lockdown that took just 28 minutes!

I believe that we all have a part to play in clean air and if one good thing has come out of 2020 it's shown that lots of small individual actions cumulatively can completely turn the trajectory for air quality. Routines and protocol for behaviour changed overnight and while we all long for ‘normal’ to come back, surely now is our best chance to pause, reflect and make things better.

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