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Decarbonising the Bus Fleet – a look at zero emission initiatives

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  • Energy and infrastructure - Clean energy
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In this article, we take a closer look how bus fleets around the world are shifting to net zero emissions, through examining the UK Government policy driving the shift to zero emission buses, looking at how bus operators are progressing clean air initiatives in the UK and considering some notable examples of global decarbonisation initiatives in the bus sector.

“Bus Back Better”

In the context of the UK Government’s target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050, decarbonisation of the UK bus fleet can be considered a key priority for UK Government policy and funding.

On 15 March 2021, the UK Government published its vision for bus services in England outside of London, called “Bus Back Better: national bus strategy for England” (the “Strategy”).

In summary, the Strategy sets the ambitious goal of increasing the overall number of bus journeys, by returning the number to pre-COVID levels, and then by surpassing it. The priorities of two-thirds of the UK Government’s departments are affected by bus services, including the UK Government’s target to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.

Of particular note in the Strategy is the UK Government’s commitment to support the purchase of at least 4000 new zero emission buses, representing more than a tenth of England’s current bus fleet. The UK Government has also pledged to set a date for ending the sale of new diesel buses in the UK. The strategy comments that only about 2% of England’s bus fleet is currently zero emission, representing 4% of London’s current fleet and 1% of the current fleet in England outside of London.

The Strategy confirms that the UK Government will consider all zero emissions technologies fairly. It is interested in both electric battery and hydrogen fuel-cell buses, as they both have their own merits; on current technology, battery-electric is more efficient on energy, but hydrogen can lend itself more to longer journeys in rural areas.

Since the Strategy was published, there have been several more noteworthy developments in the sphere of decarbonisation; these are summarised below.

UK Government announces it is on target to reach 4000 new zero emission bus promise - ZEBRA scheme

On 26 March 2022, around a year on from publication of the Strategy, the UK Government announced that it is on track to reach 4000 new zero emission buses across the country. The UK Government has currently funded around 2000 zero emission buses across England, and a further 600 zero emission buses have been funded in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The funding for 943 of these buses came from the ZEBRA (Zero Emission Bus Regional Areas) scheme, which was launched in 2021 to provide for local transport authorities to bid for funding to buy zero emissions buses. In total, £198.3 million was provided under the scheme to 12 local transport authorities. The ZEBRA scheme is now closed to new applications. Given the target which the UK Government has set in relation to the number of zero emission buses to be in operation across the country, it is possible that further funding may be made available in the future – this will be an area to monitor with interest.

UK Government consultations

There are two ongoing consultations that are particularly relevant to the bus industry, in the context of decarbonisation.

The first looks at ending the sale of new, non-zero emission buses, coaches and minibuses by 2032 at the latest. This consultation closed on 21 May 2022. The UK Government is currently analysing the feedback it received in connection with the consultation.

The second is a more general consultation, considering how to ensure the UK Government’s commitment to delivering net-zero by 2050 is done in a way that is pro-business and pro-growth. We would expect that the broad scope of this review will include views on decarbonisation in the transportation sector, such as in the bus industry.

The outcome of these consultations will likely shape the way in which decarbonisation of the UK bus fleet unfolds.

Decarbonisation initiatives in the UK and beyond

UK decarbonisation initiatives

Below is a snapshot of noteworthy initiatives taking place across the UK that are helping to further the UK Government’s ambitions for a cleaner, greener bus fleet:

Transport for West Midlands – ambitious plans for a hydrogen-powered bus fleet

Under the UK Government ZEBRA scheme (see above), Transport for West Midlands (“TfWM”) secured a £30 million grant, in order to help fund the purchase of 124 new hydrogen-fuelled buses and the cost of a refuelling facility. The grant will help to take the total number of hydrogen buses in the West Midlands to 144, the largest hydrogen bus fleet in the Western World. The plan will also support National Express West Midlands’ ambition for its buses to be net-zero by 2030.

Coventry – UK’s first all-electric bus city by 2025

TfWM has also received £50 million of funding from the UK Department for Transport to help Coventry achieve its ambition of becoming the UK’s first all-electric bus city by winter 2025. The funding provides for 297 electric buses, as well as charging points and electric grid upgrades. Again, this project will help National Express West Midlands realise its aim of having a zero emission bus fleet by 2030.

Transport for Greater Manchester – “Bee Network”

As part of the first phase of the new franchised “Bee Network”, Manchester’s new London-style transportation system, Transport for Greater Manchester (“TfGM”) has placed an order for 50 electric double-decker buses from UK manufacturer Alexander Dennis. The buses are expected to be in operation from the launch of the new network in September 2023, and are being funded through the UK Government’s City Region Sustainable Transport Settlement. It is anticipated that TfGM will order around 300 more electric buses, to be delivered between 2024 and 2027.

First Bus – largest electric bus purchase outside of London

In September 2022, First Bus announced an order for 193 electric buses to run across its operations in the UK, with a value of £81 million. First Bus will invest £43 million in the new buses; this will be topped up by a £38 million grant as part of the ZEBRA scheme. The purchase will be the largest of its kind outside of London, and the new buses are expected to enter service from March 2023.

Global decarbonisation initiatives

The UK’s investment in delivering a greener bus fleet is reflective of a global trend – some interesting examples of bus decarbonisation initiatives around the world are set out below:

Keolis, Iveco Bus and Forsee Power – partnership to improve understanding of electric bus battery performance

On 21 September 2022, Keolis, Iveco Bus and Forsee Power entered into a partnership agreement in order to strengthen their knowledge of how bus electric batteries function. As part of the project, the consortium will monitor the lifespan and use of batteries installed in the Keolis Pays D’Aix subsidiary fleet in France, comprising of 41 electric-powered buses. If successful, the collaboration could be extended to other Keolis-operated urban transport networks.

Netherlands – first emission-free bus concession launched by Transdev

To help further the Government of the Netherlands’ ambitious targets for all new buses to be zero emission by 2025, and for a 100% zero emissions bus fleet by 2030, the Province of North Holland launched the first zero emission bus concession in the Netherlands in July 2021. Operated by Transdev, the fleet consists of 28 buses from Dutch manufacturer VDL and 33 buses from fellow Dutch manufacturer Ebusco.

Chile – largest order of Chinese electric city buses from the overseas market

In its ‘National Electric Mobility Strategy’ (2021) Chile has committed to reaching an entirely zero emission urban public transport system (including buses) by 2035. As part of this goal, bus manufacturer Foton signed a £200m deal in August 2022 for 1022 electric city buses to be supplied to Santiago de Chile. The order is the largest from the overseas market of Chinese electric city buses.

Latin America is an increasingly important region for emission free buses, accelerated through projects such as the Zero Emission Bus Rapid-deployment Accelerator (ZEBRA) Partnership. In 2021, the ZEBRA Partnership secured a US$1 billion commitment from investors to deliver zero-emission buses in Latin America.


The global focus on decarbonisation and net-zero strategies is driving an exciting period of technological innovation and the delivery of significant initiatives to implement zero emissions technologies across the international bus sector.

In the UK buses remain a key mode of public transport and a central focus of the wider levelling-up agenda and the long-term recovery from the Covid pandemic; in the financial year ending 2021, 69% of public transport journeys across Great Britain were made on local buses. It is therefore unsurprising that such an important mode of transport will be the focus of de-carbonisation initiatives. The Government’s ambitious net-zero 2050 target can be expected to continue to present opportunities for innovation and the implementation of schemes to deliver a cleaner and greener bus fleet for the future.

How we can help


  • ES Transport Franchising Team: the team has a significant record of delivering important transport projects having advised a number of private and public sector clients on passenger franchises and concessions (including in the bus sector).
  • ES Infrastructure Team: the Europe team has particular experience in advising on PPP and transport projects ranging from rail and roads to airports. The Team is also based across the Middle East, Asia and Africa.
  • ES Hydrogen Hub: this one-stop shop provides legal insight into the key issues shaping developments along the entire hydrogen value-chain.