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The future of bus travel in Portsmouth could look a whole lot greener if a funding bid to introduce 34 brand new, zero-emission electric buses is successful.

The Department for Transport (DfT) announced on Thursday that a joint Expression of Interest submission from Portsmouth City Council, Hampshire County Council and bus operator First Hampshire Dorset and Berkshire, has progressed to phase 2 of the bidding process for a £6,428,919 share of the Department for Transport’s £14.3m Zero Emission Buses Regional Areas Fund (ZEBRA). Phase 2 involves the development of a Full Business Case (FBC) for the scheme.

If the bidding partners’ FBC is successful, the scheme would see the new ‘Arrival’ battery-powered buses replace many of the present diesel vehicles operating in four out of the five of the city’s Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs). These areas cover some of the busiest roads in Portsmouth with the highest levels of pollution.

The partners, led by Portsmouth City Council, submitted the Expression of Interest in June and have now been invited to develop and submit a Full Business Case for the funding. Not all local transport authorities that have reached this phase will be awarded funding during this competitive stage and no funding has yet been awarded.

The move towards lower emission public transport vehicles in the city supports the council’s objective to deliver cleaner air, which has been set out in its Local Transport Plan 4. The introduction of the electric buses, which are smoother and quieter than diesel vehicles, would make bus transport even more attractive for the travelling public and would help to develop cleaner air in the worst affected areas of the city.

The 34 brand new buses feature a low floor throughout for increased accessibility and would provide rapid, smooth and comfortable public transport links on the following main routes across Portsmouth’s travel to work area:

  • 1 Portsmouth – Southsea;
  • 3 Portsmouth – Cosham – Fareham; and
  • 9/9A Fareham – Gosport

If the funding bid is successful, 26 of the buses will be used on the First Solent routes 1 and 3 and eight buses would operate on the 9/9A routes. The high-quality buses would also support regeneration programmes aimed at improving economic activity in the city centre.

These routes represent 21% of bus mileage within Portsmouth. Over 1,734 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided each year.  With no tailpipe exhaust, the electric buses will avoid emissions of up to 1,156 kg of nitrous oxides (NOx) and 14.1 kg of particulate matter (PM).

Cllr Lynne Stagg, Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transportation, said: “This is great news and brings us a step closer to creating more sustainable bus travel and developing cleaner air for everyone who lives, works, visits and studies in the city. I look forward to working with our partners at Hampshire County Council and Firstbus as we prepare the business case for the DfT.”

Councillor Rob Humby, Deputy Leader of Hampshire County Council and Executive Lead Member for Economy, Transport and Environment, said “I am really pleased that our bid has moved to the next stage and demonstrates the value of our strong working partnership. What will be important now, is to ensure we have a watertight business case developed for submission by the end of January.

“This will stand us in good stead for the work we will be undertaking as part of ‘Bus Back Better’ – the government’s National Bus Strategy; and in supporting a green economy locally to fulfil our county council’s commitment to be carbon neutral by 2050.”

Marc Reddy, managing director of First Hampshire Dorset and Berkshire said: “This is a great example of collaboration between First, Portsmouth City Council and Hampshire County Council, and we will be working hard with our local partners to secure the funding for this path-breaking project.”

The council has been served with Ministerial Directions, requiring compliance with legal limits for nitrogen dioxide (NO2) in the shortest possible time in areas where levels of air pollution exceed the legal limits. PCC is introducing a Class B Clean Air Zone (CAZ) in 2021. The CAZ area is served by routes 1 and 3, on which 79% of the electric bus services will run. These routes account for 24% of all buses serving the CAZ area annually.