How is the rollout of ZEBRA funded buses progressing? DAVID JENKINS investigates, and reflects on the government funding provided to the industry over the decades

Back in February 2020, prime minister Boris Johnson made a speech in Parliament, announcing a new vision for local transport. He promised “a record-breaking £5bn of new investment in buses and bicycles” which would see “More than 4,000 brandnew buses on the roads – zero carbon and British built – on the roads of places such as Ashfield, Barnstaple, Southampton, Manchester and many more towns and cities besides”.

But the following month, the Covid pandemic engulfed the country, and work on the intended five year package was paused, while much of the money to fund it was instead diverted to supporting local bus services through the Covid crisis.

Nevertheless, when the National Bus Strategy in the form of the Bus Back Better document emerged in spring 2021, it retained a pledge to “support the purchase of at least 4,000 new zero emission buses, more than a tenth of the fleet”.

It promised £120m of funding to support this in 2021/22, with applications invited to the Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas scheme, or ZEBRA as it has become known. Commitments to future years were not made, although Bus Back Better had perhaps wisely determined that “Based on experience in these pathfinder areas, we will then scale up to deliver the Prime Minister’s commitment to 4,000 new zero emission buses”.

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