Carbon neutral bus fleet moved to Plymouth after four years as they are “unsuitable” for Norfolk roads
- Credit: Picture: Nick Butcher
A fleet of carbon neutral biogas powered buses, bought using hundreds of thousands of pounds from the public purse four years ago, have left the county as they were 'unsuitable' for the rural areas of Norfolk and Suffolk.
In 2012 the Department for Transport (DfT) announced successful bids as part of the government's Green Bus Fund. With the aim to reduce fuel emission levels £3m was announced for the East of England, including £624,000 for the 13 new gas powered buses for use by Anglian Bus to run between Lowestoft and Norwich.
Launching the new buses in 2012, director Andrew Pursey said he was 'convinced' the fleet would become the most cost effective in the country.
But last year the company bought 23 brand new buses with Euro V diesel engines, 18 of which operate on the Norwich Park and Ride services.
The biogas fleet were taken out of service in mid October and sent to Plymouth CityBus - a subsidiary of the Go Ahead group which runs Anglian Bus - as 'there is not enough suitable work for the gas buses in East Anglia'.
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Andrew Boswell, Green Group spokesperson for environment, development and transport at Norfolk County Council, said he was 'very upset' the biogas bus project had failed.
'Everybody involved in the operation of buses, not just the operators but the county council, need to learn lessons from this,' he said. 'With new technology we have to get the infrastructure right and do it on a wider scale. 'There are also lessons to learn for the DfT to make sure future funding bids are future-proofed beyond that first few years.
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'As for Euro V engines being bought it is a shame because it really should be a one way route as far as diesel is concerned. What they really need to be thinking about is electric fleets.
'That is where they need a long term vision for a bid to build up the electric fleet and do it in a way that is long-term and sustainable. 'I do not blame the bus operators because the government obviously did not give them enough support to continue. When they dish out funding they need to see the road map towards full production for years to come.'
Bert Bremner, cabinet member for environment and sustainable development at Norwich City Council, said the investment in biogas buses had been 'a waste'.
'The reality is these are private operators and private companies can make the decisions they want,' he said. 'This seems such a waste of government money, and they should be investing properly in a fleet of green buses.'
The DfT launched a new Low Emission Bus Scheme last year, with £30m of funding for new buses and infrastructure. None of winning bidders were from Norfolk or Suffolk.
AnglianBus says that it is upgrading the services the biogas buses were used on to 'increase capacity'.
Gavin Hunter, Managing Director of Go Ahead in East Anglia, said: 'We are upgrading the services the gas buses currently operate on with 65-plate ADL Enviro400 double-deckers. 'Unfortunately there is not enough suitable work for the gas buses in East Anglia. A lot of the work we do on rural roads means longer single-deckers are unsuitable.'
Air pollution is still a concern
To tackle the problem or air pollution, an 'air quality management area' was first put in place in part of Norwich city centre in 2003, meaning the city council had to develop a comprehensive plan to meet air quality standards.
The Norwich City Council Air Quality Action Plan 2015 stated its aim has been 'to increase the number of biogas buses in operation and encourage more bus companies to follow suit.'
There is also an ambition to achieve a minimum Euro V compliance across bus operators.
The annual average level of nitrogen dioxide is not meant to go over 40 micrograms per cubic metre of air (?g/m3). But city centre nitrogen dioxide levels have been above that limit every year from 2010 to 2014 - the last year annual data is available for - according to city council figures.
And the latest readings from a site in Lakenham from the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) show nitrogen dioxide levels were particularly high in January, February and March this year, reaching a high of 87 ?g/m3.
In 2014, the average nitrogen dioxide level in the city centre was 65pc above the target at 66?g/m3.
Almost 12,000 people a year die prematurely in Britain because of exposure to nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which is largely produced by diesel engines, the European Environment Agency (EEA) has said.