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Policy on decarbonising the bus fleet

Transport produced 26% of the UK’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2021, and remains the largest emitting sector in the UK. The majority (91%) of emissions from domestic transport came from road vehicles.

In 2021, cars produced 57% of these road transport emissions, while buses produced just 3%.

The Government has said that buses have a role to play in the delivery of its 2050 net zero target by:

  • encouraging more people to take the bus, and thereby use their cars less.
  • replacing the buses currently in use, which are mainly fuelled by diesel, with zero emission alternatives.

In its 2020 green ‘ten-point plan’, the UK Government set a target of 4,000 zero emission buses (ZEBs) to be deployed by the end of the current Parliament, equating to over 10 per cent of the total bus fleet.

The Department for Transport (DfT)’s 2021 Transport Decarbonisation Plan noted that currently only 2 per cent of England’s local operator bus fleet was zero emission, meaning “it is vital that we go further faster”.

Funding more zero-emission buses

In September 2023 the Government said it had reached its target of funding at least 4,000 ZEBs. In May 2024 the Secretary of State for Transport, Mark Harper, said “more than 5,200 buses have been funded across the UK since February 2020, with UK bus manufacturers supporting many of them.” 

However, the number of ZEBs currently on the road may be lower than this. As of September 2023 there were around 3000 licenced ZEBs in the UK (see Table 1 below). 

As of September 2023, the manufacturers with the greatest proportion of the UK battery electric bus fleet was BYD (46%), followed by Wrightbus (15%) and Yutong (11%). BYD and Yutong are Chinese companies. Wrightbus are a UK-company based in Northern Ireland.


Source: Department for Transport (DfT), Vehicle licensing statistics data tables, VEH0141b (GenModels)

Support for UK Bus manufacturers

In a Commons debate on 16 May 2024, Alan Brown (SNP) and Simon Lightwood (Labour, Shadow Transport Minister) noted that Chinese manufacturers were winning many UK bus contracts over UK manufacturers. 

In response, the Transport Secretary Mark Harper said that trade rules prevented the Government from instructing bus operators or local authorities from buying ZEBs from British manufacturers, but that the Government was supporting the industry:

it is not possible, given our international commitments under the World Trade Organisation, to specify that people have to buy British buses. […] British bus manufacturers are very competitive. The Government have made support available to businesses through our Advanced Propulsion Centre and UK Export Finance. As I said to [Alan Brown], if the shadow Minister thinks that there is any unfair competition with subsidised imports, the Trade Remedies Authority has all the tools at its disposal to deal with that.

We back British buses. We have fantastic manufacturers, and I have confidence in them. In a fair competition, our bus manufacturers can take on the world.

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