£56m bus deal could see zero emission buses in Greater Manchester, though with strings attached
- Introduction subject to Stagecoach Manchester winning Department for Transport grant;
- Transport for Greater Manchester to submit rival bid for all-electric Vantage and Metroshuttle routes and school buses.
You can safely say that Greater Manchester is the spiritual home of the electric bus. 45 years ago it set the trend with Chloride’s Silent Rider – an all-electric Seddon single decker bus. Unlike today’s buses, it was only used at peak times and charged between the peaks. By 2012, the first electric-hybrid buses entered regular service and became a regular feature on trunk routes.
Stagecoach Manchester, its southern successor to GM Buses, Greater Manchester Transport and SELNEC before then, is Greater Manchester’s leading operator of electric-hybrid vehicles. Transport for Greater Manchester added electric-hybrid Optare Solo SR minibuses for tendered services and Metroshuttle operations.
Yesterday [28 August], Stagecoach Manchester has announced an ambitious £56m plan to deliver Europe’s largest fleet of zero emission buses. It is hoped that its infrastructure will be in place by next year with all 105 buses arriving by 2020. In addition to updating Stagecoach Manchester’s fleet, its other aim is to reduce CO2 levels throughout Greater Manchester.
The plans are dependent on a £21.5m bid in support from the Government’s recently announced Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme. This is aimed at cutting emissions and ensuring cleaner and greener journeys.
The new Enviro400 EV City vehicles have a range of up to 190 miles and capacity to carry around 80 seated passengers. If approved, they would be built by Alexander Dennis with battery and power electronics expertise from automotive company BYD.
At depot level, intelligent chargers will be used to limit loadings on the electricity supply and maximise vehicle availability. If approved, the new e-bus fleet for Manchester would significantly dwarf Sadiq Khan’s plans for 68 new electric double-decker buses in Greater London.
To date, the Stagecoach Group is already the UK’s biggest investor in hybrid-electric bus technology and has invested more than £1billion in new greener buses over the past decade.
Stagecoach’s plans would see the new e-buses replacing conventional Euro 3 and Euro 4 vehicles based at Hyde Road and Sharston depots. Major charging infrastructure would allow buses to be charged simultaneously, allowing for 24 hour operation.
Stagecoach’s future e-bus fleet would be seen on four key high frequency services. These may cover routes connecting Manchester city centre, Manchester Airport, Manchester Piccadilly railway station, six hospitals and two universities. It would also complement recent public investment in bus priority measures in South Manchester.
Two further high frequency services would be operated predominantly by electric vehicles, supported by existing low carbon certified hybrid vehicles at peak times. Therefore, 36 buses per hour in each direction could be operated by the new e-bus fleet. The introduction of new electric buses will also enable the cascade of existing low-carbon emissions vehicles onto two routes serving Trafford and Salford.
A month from summer 2019, 15 – 20 Enviro400EV buses could be introduced to the fleet. Full roll out may be achieved by early 2020. Infrastructure works would begin in the autumn of 2018 and be ready by spring 2019.
The new e-bus fleet for Greater Manchester could offer a 62% improvement in CO2 emissions over the latest low-carbon emission buses and supports the region’s Air Quality Action Plan. Overall, the initiative would save 2.6 million litres of diesel a year, reduce annual CO2 by 6,800 tonnes, and cut NOx emissions by 24% and particulates by 20% across the fleet.
Poor air quality is estimated to contribute to more than 40,000 premature deaths across the UK each year. Emissions from cars and vans are estimated to cost £6 billion a year, at a cost to our NHS and society as a whole.
Stagecoach’s ground-breaking initiative would also help accelerate the introduction of e-buses across Europe. There are currently around 725,000 buses in operation across Europe, but only an estimated 2,500 of those are fully electric.
In the last year, much noise has been made over the future structure of Greater Manchester’s bus operations. Under powers granted by the The Bus Services Act 2017, the Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham has the power to regulate local bus operations. Greater Manchester’s buses can be regulated, by means of a franchised model or a partnership. Nationalisation, by means of TfGM taking direct control of local services (or Tameside MBC within its borough) is prohibited.
Vox populi seems to favour the franchised model which has been successful in Greater London. Transport for Greater Manchester could franchise a route or package of routes. As with the Metrolink system they could set the fares. If desired, orange and white buses could be seen on the streets again.
This has caused some friction with the conurbation’s incumbent operators, and this move is far from unprecedented. In 2013, a petition was presented to NEXUS PTE (Tyne and Wear’s Integrated Transport Authority) to halt its proposed Quality Contract Scheme. With support from the GMB trade union and Stagecoach North East, the plans were scrapped in 2015.
The voluntary partnership model which Stagecoach Manchester favours, is similar to Travel South Yorkshire’s model. Their Buses For Sheffield scheme has coordinated routes and, like Greater Manchester’s System One and GetMeThere tickets, multi-operator tickets. Stagecoach Yorkshire is a member of Buses For Sheffield alongside TM Travel, First South Yorkshire, and community transport schemes.
Stagecoach aims to work with the Mayor of Greater Manchester and the city region’s ten local authorities. More comprehensive services, better value fares, simpler ticketing, and an improved customer experience is their aim. Alongside addressing issues around damaging car congestion, which impacts bus punctuality.
There is another reason why Stagecoach Manchester favours the partnership model of Greater Manchester’s bus network: control. Unlike the franchised model, Stagecoach Manchester will be free to offer its own fares and products like now. As at present, they would retain the right to modify or withdraw routes. There would be no obligation to use a standard livery of TfGM’s choosing.
On the proposals, Martin Griffiths, Chief Executive of Stagecoach Group said: “This game-changing initiative is the biggest single investment in e-bus technology anywhere in Europe. It is a clear sign of our bold ambition to transform Greater Manchester’s bus network.
“Our plans will put Greater Manchester at the forefront of the drive to improve local air quality, and help cement Britain’s position as global leader in manufacturing low-emission vehicles. It is also part of our wider partnership proposals to maximise the potential of the bus network to drive the region’s economy and better connect its communities.
“By working together, bus operators, the Mayor and the region’s local authorities can deliver the quick and sustained improvements we all want to see in Greater Manchester’s bus network, building on the major progress we’ve already made and avoiding unnecessary extra costs to local taxpayers.”
We gave it up for music and a free electric bus…
The balance of power could lie in Transport for Greater Manchester’s application for the Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme. TfGM’s scheme proposes the addition of 64 all-electric buses. Ten of which may be added to the V1/V2/V4 Vantage services operated by First Greater Manchester. Thirteen of which are pencilled in for Metroshuttle operations. The remainder would be used on school bus routes.
If successful, TfGM aims to have an all-electric fleet of single decker buses on the Metroshuttle service by 2021. By 2020 it aims to have a total of 51 battery electric buses in Greater Manchester. Ten of which from Leigh to Manchester on the Vantage routes, with more than twenty schools served by 41 all-electric school buses. Or 4.1 electric buses for each borough.
In TfGM’s proposals, details of associated infrastructure may include charging points at bus stations and important termini as well as each operator’s depots. The present fleet of ten Euro V diesel hybrid buses on Metroshuttle services could be scrapped. Three all-electric ones will be cascaded onto Metroshuttle services in Stockport or Bolton. Five Euro VI diesel hybrid buses on Vantage routes will be cascaded to other routes in Greater Manchester.
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If Stagecoach Manchester and/or Transport for Greater Manchester wins access to funding from the Ultra-Low Emission Bus Scheme, they are charged with retaining Greater Manchester’s premier position in zero emission public transport. A journey which began over 45 years ago in Pendlebury and on the outskirts of Oldham.
S.V., 29 August 2018.