Stagecoach Group uses Clean Air Day to push for modal switch from car to public transport

For public transport, the COVID-19 pandemic has been unkind to say the least. Despite Transdev’s ‘Clean and Ready to Go’ and ‘Back To Bus’ campaigns, public transport patronage is still way below pre-pandemic levels. If you remember the four scenarios in Transport for Greater Manchester’s second Bus Franchising System consultation, we seem to be heading towards the car-based growth scenario.

It can be argued that the pandemic has ossified the Thatcher/Ridley consensus of public transport users having failed in life. Fears over catching COVID-19 on the 346 seem to be greater than fears of catching COVID-19 at the Morrisons store or secondary school en route.

Latest Government data shows a worrying rise in car ownership above pre-pandemic levels. Over the last two weekends, car traffic has been above pre-pandemic levels and as high as 108% of the position before March 2020. In contrast, use of buses outside London is currently at around 60%-70% of pre-pandemic levels, with passenger volumes on the national rail network at just under 50%.

Behavioural changes

Stagecoach has called for a major shift in transport behaviour to address health and climate challenges facing the country. Diesel cars and vans are responsible for 70% of transport NOx emissions. Studies have also found air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK annually.

Poor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development and may even contribute to mental health issues. Studies have also shown additional links to higher infection and death rates from COVID-19.

Buses can play a huge role in reducing air pollution and congestion, with a fully loaded double decker bus able to take 75 cars off the road. As the UK plans for a post-COVID world and prepares to host the COP26 climate summit in November, switching from the car to more sustainable public transport can also help meet the net zero targets set by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments.

Sharon Vye-Parminter, Health, Safety and Environment Director for Stagecoach, said: “We need a mass switch from cars to public transport, particularly buses, if we are to avoid a growing health and climate crisis. But there are already worrying signs in our towns and cities that car use is growing rather than falling.

“Technology alone will not solve the challenges we face. We need to make real changes to how we all live our lives and there has never been a better opportunity for government and public transport operators to work together to help people make that switch.”

Independent research published before the COVID-19 pandemic found that without Stagecoach bus services, there would be an annual increase of 190,000 tonnes of CO2 through passengers using alternative transport, mainly cars. The study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research also found that £343 million in potential congestion-related savings are delivered by Stagecoach from a reduction of 1.22 billion miles of traffic.

Sustainability strategy

Later this summer, Stagecoach is due to publish its new sustainability strategy, with a range of environmental and other targets designed to help deliver a greener, smarter, safer, healthier and fairer future for the country. It has already announced plans to target a fully zero-emission bus fleet by 2035.

Over £1 billion has been invested by Stagecoach in 7,000 new greener vehicles and technologies in the past decade. It includes a fleet of 32 new electric double-decker buses introduced in Manchester last year, one of Europe’s single biggest investments in electric technology. During 2021, Stagecoach will be introducing a further 46 new fully electric buses in its key Scottish transport networks in Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Perth. New coaches have also recently been introduced in East Scotland fitted with solar panels to provide clean solar energy on board.

As well as rolling out new lower emission buses, Stagecoach is also investing in new technology and personalised solutions to encourage more people to move away from their cars and onto public transport. A new corporate partnership scheme has recently been launched offering discounted bus travel to NHS employees in Scotland and schemes are in place around the UK offering demand responsive transport solutions to the NHS and other businesses and communities.

In 2020, Stagecoach was awarded the London Stock Exchange (LSE) Green Economy Mark. It recognises listed companies and funds which derive 50% or more of their revenues from environmental solutions.

Whether a national player like Stagecoach or a well-established local operator like Stott’s Tours, the outlook cannot be more challenging.

For casual journeys, public transport is a more expensive option as passengers travelling longer distances five days a week get a better deal with season tickets. Furthermore, the closure of licensed premises during and between lockdowns has exacerbated the decline of our evening services. Casual users might stick with the car or take taxis on short distance journeys.

An EM60 Presentation, 17 June 2021.

One thought on “Clean Air Day Call for Modal Switch

  1. Perhaps if buses between Royton and Manchester hadn’t seen a cut from 6ph to 2ph I might be tempted

    Perhaps if a 10 minute journey didn’t cost £3

    Perhaps if buses linked in with rail and tram services and you tapped in and out for a set price I may consider it

    Liked by 1 person

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