Oxford City Council has won £1.7m to introduce the first fully-electric double-decker buses to Oxford later this year.
The funding will retrofit five of the city’s open-top sightseeing buses to become fully electric, and retrofit 78 local buses to become significantly less polluting.
The electric buses are expected to be available later this year.
Oxford city centre currently has illegally-high levels of toxic nitrogen dioxide (NO2), which contributes to diseases including cancer, asthma, stroke and heart disease.
A 2016 report found that outdoor air pollution causes around 40,000 deaths in the UK every year.
Across Oxford city centre, there has been a 36.9 per cent drop in NO2 levels at roadside over the last decade.
A significant contributor to this reduction was the Low Emission Zone, which was introduced in Oxford city centre by Oxford City Council and Oxfordshire County Council in 2014.
The zone, which was the first outside London, requires all Oxford buses to be low emission and meet the Euro V emission standard.
The £1.7m will retrofit 78 of Oxford’s buses to the Euro VI standard. This, alongside the fully-electric buses, is expected to significantly reduce NO2 levels across the city centre.
Oxford City Council won the £1.7m funding from the Department of Transport’s Clean Bus Technology Fund, which has given £40m to 20 local authorities to reduce bus emissions.
The City Council worked with the main local bus operators – Oxford Bus Company, which also owns City Sightseeing Oxford, and Stagecoach in Oxfordshire – on the funding bid. The operators will carry out the retrofitting.
The funding will be allocated over the next 15 months, with £938,910 given in 2017/18 and £724,020 in 2018/19. The retrofitting will be carried out on a rolling basis until April 2019.
In the 1990s, four electric Optare MetroRider minibuses were trialled in Oxford.
Despite the reduction in air pollution, latest monitoring data has found that NO2 levels appear to have plateaued above the legal limits in some parts of the city. Between 2011 and 2013, average NO2 levels across the city centre fell by 18.9 per cent; but between 2014 and 2016 they fell by just 3.9 per cent.
To tackle this, last year the City and County Councils announced plans to introduce the world’s first Zero Emission Zone in Oxford city centre.
The zone will ban all emitting vehicles in phrases, starting with some vehicle types and a small number of streets in 2020 and, as vehicle technology develops, moves to all vehicle types across the whole city centre in 2035.
The new funding will support the implementation of the Zero Emission Zone, and will help reduce pollution in the city centre before 2020.
The City Council, supported by the County Council, also recently won £500,000 of Government funding to install charging points for electric taxis and £800,000 of Government funding to install 100 electric vehicle charging points for Oxford residents to support zone’s implementation.
The Government announced plans in July 2017 to ban all new petrol and diesel cars and vans from 2040.
Councillor Susan Brown, Leader of Oxford City Council, said: “I am delighted that this grant will enable us to introduce fully-electric buses to Oxford. Currently Oxford has air pollution levels in the city centre which are above legal levels and therefore can damage the health of Oxford’s residents and visitors.
“We are looking at all measures possible to reduce pollution in our city centre. In recent years, nitrogen dioxide levels have remained fairly constant, so we need to take more radical measures to tackle this issue. The Zero Emission Zone is one such step change, but this will help us to achieve our goal of cleaner air.”
Oxford Bus Company Managing Director, Phil Southall, said: “This is excellent news for the city of Oxford and is the result of key stakeholders working together to unlock crucial Government funding for the wider benefit of the community we all serve. This is the first step in a long progress towards introducing ultra-low or zero emission buses more widely within Oxford.
“We are particularly pleased that we have been successful in our bid to upgrade five of our City Sightseeing Oxford Buses to full electric operation. These will allow us to gain experience of this developing technology.
“As a bus operator we have always prided ourselves as being at the forefront of leading the UK on environmental technology innovation and over half of our buses are powered by hybrid technology. The new funding will enable us to take this even further.”
Martin Sutton, Managing Director of Stagecoach in Oxfordshire, said: “I am delighted that Oxford City Council’s bid has been successful.
"Most of our buses on Oxford city routes are fairly new and are either electric hybrid powered or already comply with the latest emissions standards.
"This funding will enable us to upgrade the rest of our Oxford city fleet to the highest Euro 6 standard. As well as further reducing our NOx and other emissions, we hope to be able to persuade even more people to make cleaner, greener journeys by bus”
Transport Minister Nusrat Ghani said: “Buses and coaches are hugely important to those who rely on them and to the communities in which these people live and work.
"Road transport is going to change dramatically over the next couple of decades – and we have to make sure that the bus industry is ready to benefit from those changes.
“We have to move away from nose-to-tail car traffic at peak times, endless engine idling, stop-start travel and rising pollution and carbon emissions. Rather than contributing to the problem – buses and coaches very much form part of the solution.”
Environment Minister Therese Coffey said: “Poor air quality affects public health, the economy and the environment, which is why we are determined to do more.
“I am delighted to see so many high quality applications to the Clean Bus Technology Fund and, as a result, the government has decided to bring forward funding meaning that we will award nearly £40 million to retrofit more than 2,700 buses.
“This is another way which the government is delivering on its commitment to improving the environment within a generation and leave it in a better state than we found it.”