England to update bus services with a £3 billion plan involving hydrogen technology

Environment

A bus travelling on roads in Cornwall, England.
Peter Cade | Stone | Getty Images

A £3 billion ($4.16 billion) plan to update bus services in England was announced Monday, with the British government describing it as the “most ambitious reform to the sector in a generation.”

The wide-ranging strategy will aim to introduce a more reliable, frequent and lower-cost service to passengers.

The government’s plans include rolling out 4,000 electric or hydrogen buses, introducing contactless payments on all services and creating “hundreds of miles of new bus lanes.” More services will be offered on weekends and evenings, while a daily price cap on fares will be introduced. 

The government said it would also “transition cities and regions across England to emission-free buses” and scrap the sale of new diesel buses, with a consultation on the latter also launched on Monday.

On the accessibility front, authorities want all services in Britain to provide passengers with “next stop” announcements. Buses in London already offer this in the form of automated voice recordings and digital boards which provide information on where a bus is headed to and its next calling point.

Separately, a £20 million “rural mobility fund” will look to pilot on-demand transport for areas of the country where more traditional offerings don’t work as well. The government said this kind of service could involve passengers using an app to book a minibus, a system which has already been introduced to some parts of the country.

“The quality of bus service you receive shouldn’t be dependent on where you live,” Grant Shapps, the U.K. government’s transport secretary, said in a statement.

“Everyone deserves to have access to cheap, reliable and quick bus journeys,” he added. “The strategy we’re unveiling today will completely overhaul services, ensuring we build back better from the pandemic.”

The plans announced Monday did not win universal approval. Critics included the trade union Unite. Its national officer for passenger transport, Bobby Morton, argued that, among other things, app-based services would “result in the casualisation of drivers’ employment and will be an expensive two-tier service with passengers who are not digitally literate being excluded.”

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