Stagecoach, Britain’s biggest bus, coach and tram operator, is marking Clean Air Day today (17 June 2021) with a call for a mass switch from cars to public transport as the country looks to emerge from the Covid-19 pandemic.
Latest data from the UK Department for Transport shows a worrying rise in car use. Over the last two weekends, car traffic has been above pre-pandemic levels and as high as 108% of the position before March 2020. In contrast, use of buses outside London is currently at around 60%-70% of pre-pandemic levels, with passenger volumes on the national rail network at just under 50%.
Stagecoach has called for a major shift in transport behaviour to address health and climate challenges facing the country. Diesel cars and vans are responsible for 70% of transport NOx emissions1. Studies have also found air pollution causes up to 36,000 deaths in the UK annually.
Poor air quality causes heart and lung diseases, is linked to low birth weight and children’s lung development and may even contribute to mental health issues. Studies have also shown additional links to higher infection and death rates from Covid-192.
Buses can play a huge role in reducing air pollution and congestion, with a fully loaded double decker bus able to take 75 cars off the road. As the UK plans for a post-Covid world and prepares to host the COP26 climate summit in November, switching from the car to more sustainable public transport can also help meet the net zero targets set by the UK, Scottish and Welsh Governments.
Sharon Vye-Parminter, Health, Safety and Environment Director for Stagecoach, said: “We need a mass switch from cars to public transport, particularly buses, if we are to avoid a growing health and climate crisis. But there are already worrying signs in our towns and cities that car use is growing rather than falling.
“Technology alone will not solve the challenges we face. We need to make real changes to how we all live our lives and there has never been a better opportunity for government and public transport operators to work together to help people make that switch.”
Independent research published before the Covid-19 pandemic found that without Stagecoach bus services, there would be an annual increase of 190,000 tonnes of CO2 through passengers using alternative transport, mainly cars. The study by the Centre for Economic and Business Research also found that £343 million in potential congestion-related savings are delivered by Stagecoach from a reduction of 1.22 billion miles of traﬃc3.
Later this summer, Stagecoach is due to publish its new sustainability strategy, with a range of environmental and other targets designed to help deliver a greener, smarter, safer, healthier and fairer future for the country. It has already announced plans to target a fully zero-emission bus fleet by 2035.
Over £1 billion has been invested by Stagecoach in 7,000 new greener vehicles and technologies in the past decade. It includes a fleet of 32 new electric double-decker buses introduced in Manchester last year, one of Europe’s single biggest investments in electric technology. During 2021, Stagecoach will be introducing a further 46 new fully electric buses in its key Scottish transport networks in Aberdeen, Kilmarnock and Perth. New coaches have also recently been introduced in East Scotland fitted with solar panels to provide clean solar energy on board.
As well as rolling out new lower emission buses, Stagecoach is also investing in new technology and personalised solutions to encourage more people to move away from their cars and onto public transport. A new corporate partnership scheme has recently been launched offering discounted bus travel to NHS employees in Scotland and schemes are in place around the UK offering demand responsive transport solutions to the NHS and other businesses and communities.
In 2020, Stagecoach was awarded the London Stock Exchange (LSE) Green Economy Mark. It recognises listed companies and funds which derive 50% or more of their revenues from environmental solutions.