£ 640million funding black hole emerges in SNP’s vision for zero carbon buses


SNP and Green ministers have been accused of adding ‘relentless’ pressure on overworked Scottish bus operators after a funding black hole totaling hundreds of millions of pounds was exposed in a vision to decarbonize public transports.

The analysis showed that up to £ 640million in missing cash will have to be found to upgrade polluting diesel buses – amid concerns that operators will have to fill the gap, despite financial hardship from the pandemic.

The revelation is a slash at the SNP-Greens climate credentials ahead of Scotland hosting the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow which begins on October 31.

The shortfall emerged after a report commissioned by the transport arm of the Scottish government warned that it would be “impossible to offer a viable alternative to cars” if “insufficient government investment” is put forward to decarbonize the fleet Scottish bus.

READ MORE: ‘Radical change’: Aviation demand in Scotland must drop by a third by 2030 to meet climate targets

Transport accounts for around 11 million tonnes of carbon emissions each year in Scotland, but ministers hope to reduce it to 6.5 million tonnes by 2030.

In its program for government last month, the Scottish government announced that it would remove all remaining diesel buses currently on the road in just two years.

Transport Minister Graeme Dey confirmed that “there are around 4,400 public service buses” in Scotland, adding “the majority of which will need to switch to zero emission buses in order to meet the 2023 ambition”.

The policy will contribute to the commitment to reduce car kilometers in Scotland by 20% by 2030 and to cut emissions by 75% from 1990 levels nine years from now.

READ MORE: Call to increase car tax to subsidize public transport to meet climate goals

Thanks to the Scottish Ultra Low Emission Bus Program, 272 green buses have been ordered of the £ 36.9million funding made available in 2020/21.

The first phase of the Scottish Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund is now underway with £ 50million available for buses and infrastructure.

But Scottish Tories have warned that funding will only expand enough to decarbonize 343 buses, which falls far short of the Scottish government’s target.

Analysis by the Scottish Parliament Information Center (Spice) shows that as of March 2020, ‘93% of buses used to provide local services in Scotland were diesel powered’, with just 1% ‘completely zero emissions’.

The study adds: “There are 4,400 buses used to provide local services in Scotland, which means there were 4,092 diesel buses”.

At least 2,046 diesel buses will need to be replaced by December 2023 as part of the SNP-Greens pledge, which would be “around 76 buses per month for the next 27 months,” according to Spice research.

He adds: “By comparison, the Scottish Government’s Scottish Green Bus Fund supported the purchase of 475 low-emission buses between 2011 and 2018, many of which were diesel powered. ”

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The Scottish Tories have said ministers will need to provide around £ 640million in funding to bus operators to effect the change.

Scottish Transport Tory spokesman Graham Simpson said: ‘This is yet another prime example of an SNP-Green policy bound by unworkable deadlines and excessive costs. It will not be the government that pays, but rather the already overwhelmed bus operators.

“The pressures that the nationalist coalition is exerting on our bus industry are relentless.

“Bus operators have already made huge strides in greening fleets, infrastructure and their overall operations.

“If the SNP-Green government is not prepared to significantly increase the funding it has made available, then it needs to rethink the timelines it has set for phasing out these diesel vehicles.

“Right now they are setting the industry up for failure. It is clear that this SNP-Green government does not match its rhetoric on climate change with the funding needed to achieve critical goals. ”

READ MORE: SNP fails to meet greenhouse gas targets for third year in a row

Paul White, Scottish director of the Confederation of Passenger Transport (CPT) in the UK, has issued a warning about the short deadline to decarbonize bus fleets as operators face pandemic pressures.

He said: ‘The Scottish bus industry has embarked on decarbonisation and invested over £ 70million in zero emission buses over the past 18 months. The Scottish Government’s target of greening half of the Scottish fleet by 2023 is extremely ambitious and has been set despite the impact of Covid-19, leaving attendance levels removed, thereby limiting the sector’s ability to increase traffic. investments.

“The majority of the cost of each zero emission bus is covered by the operator. Operators have few levers to reduce costs or increase revenues in order to divert resources to investment in the fleet.

“These could include revising fares or levels of service – which would not help restore bus ridership, or encourage more people to use the bus, thereby reducing congestion and associated carbon emissions.” to the use of the car. The transition to zero emission should be reserved for bus passengers. and bus operators.

“CPT Scotland continues to contribute to the Government’s Bus Decarbonization Task Force to identify an evidence-based path to net zero that is difficult but achievable. We urge the government to provide continued support for decarbonization based on the findings and timeline identified by the task force. ”

A coalition of organizations representing bus operators, local authorities, manufacturers and workers has called on the UK government to speed up its deployment of zero-emission buses or risk missing key targets.

In a letter to Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Chief Treasury Secretary Simon Clarke, a call was made for UK ministers to use the upcoming spending review to set a clear roadmap to deliver much more buses on an accelerated schedule and ensure that funding reflects the full cost of zero-emission vehicles and infrastructure.

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Last month, a report released by Element Energy, commissioned by Transport Scotland, clearly warned that “the government’s insufficient investment in providing a world-class zero-emission public transport network will make it impossible to provide a viable alternative to cars, limiting both cars and buses. decarbonization efforts ”.

The document adds that the Scottish Government’s timetable for decarbonizing the bus fleet was “very ambitious requiring significant financial support”.

He said: “As with cars, the main obstacles to the introduction of zero emission buses and coaches are cost, refueling infrastructure and vehicle supply.”

The report points out that Alexander Dennis offers “models of electric and hydrogen buses”.

He adds: ‘The Scottish Government should continue to work with original equipment manufacturers across Europe to bring zero emission buses to the Scottish market as quickly as possible, taking advantage of the more advanced position of the ‘Zero emission and nationally produced buses offering in the bus sector which Scotland cannot rely on in other road vehicle sectors.

A Scottish government spokesperson said: ‘We have made it clear that our ambition to remove the majority of fossil-fueled buses from public transport by the end of 2023 is not something the government can achieve on its own.

“That’s why, in our first 100 days, we convened the Bus Decarbonization Task Force to agree with leaders from the energy, finance, manufacturing and operations sectors. of all the necessary actions to switch to zero emission vehicles.

“We have made £ 50million available now, through the first phase of Scotland’s New Zero Emission Bus Challenge Fund, to support the necessary actions. This builds on the £ 50million we made available last year, which unlocked over £ 71million in private investment, resulting in 272 new zero emission bus orders, of which 207 are currently under construction here in Scotland.

“This new round of funding, which is part of the £ 120million we are making available to the industry to invest in zero emission technologies, is designed to encourage the market to come up with new and innovative ways to finance zero buses. broadcast in the future. ”

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