York bids for ‘game changer’ £48m to electrify entire bus fleet

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In what is being described as a “real game-changer” for York, the city has put together a £48m Bus Service Improvement Plan (BSIP) bid to the Department for Transport (DfT).

It is the first major scheme to be revealed by a local authority, ahead of the 31 October deadline for all English councils to submit their BSIPs.

The Government has committed to spending £3 billion on improving bus services outside of London in this parliament and has asked local authorities to come up with plans, which must be submitted by the end of the month.

A key part of the DfT’s National Bus Strategy, English Councils must in future bid for funds to help run and improve buses, by submitting a BSIP. Those that fail to submit an acceptable plan will no longer receive their current funding.

It comes after the DfT established that the only way bus services – and crucially ridership – grow is when bus operators and operators work together. It discovered that a poor operator and a good local transport authority, or vice-versa, fails to deliver.

To force poor LAs and poor operators to change, in future funding that was made automatically, such as Bus Service Operators Grant (BSOG) will in effect be ‘performance tested’.

The City of York Council’s bid asks the DfT for £12 million to complete the electrification of York’s bus fleet (currently confined to some park-and-ride and open-top tourist routes) and £5m to bring in a flat fares system for young people.

York is also asking for £3m to improve bus service frequencies, £15m to provide bus priority areas and support rapid services to new developments around the city, and £5m to upgrade the park and ride network.

Julian Ridge, the council’s sustainable transport manager, says: “The aspiration is for a network of urban routes that run every 10 minutes between 7am and 7pm, Monday to Friday, with similar frequencies on a Saturday and a lower frequency on Sundays and in the evenings.

“If we do get the funding we’ve asked for it does have the potential to be a real game changer.”

The document was discussed at a meeting of the council’s climate change policy and scrutiny committee, where councillors were told transport is responsible for almost 30 per cent of York’s city-wide emissions.

There are around 150 buses operating across York and Mr Ridge said, if the improvement plan and a separate DfT bid are successful, the only diesel buses left operating would be those running to places such as Scarborough and Hull, which are “very difficult” to convert.

A £50,000 feasibility study to see if an electric city centre shuttle bus could run in York is also set to be submitted as part of the improvement plan. 

Committee chair Christian Vassie welcomed that proposal, adding: “It would provide a viable, easy way for people with mobility problems to get right around the city centre, and at the same time provide an opportunity for other residents to catch connections, and for tourists to get from the station to their hotel.”

Mr Ridge pointed out that, unlike many areas of the country, York had seen a two-thirds increase in bus users since the year 2000, and the city has the 11th highest trip rate outside of London.

“We are already building on 30 years of pro-bus policies and investment,” he added.

Executive member for transport Andy D’Agorne will decide whether to sign off on the bid next week.

He said: “Providing sustainable and accessible public transport across the city is fundamental to achieving the city’s carbon reduction goals and supporting the growth strategy set out in the Local Plan. To encourage greater use of the bus network, services must be safe, convenient and attractive to residents, commuters and visitors.”

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