Written by Oxford Bus Company MD Phil Southall and Stagecoach Oxfordshire MD Chris Coleman.

ONE positive to emerge from Covid-19 has been the environmental improvements that have occurred.

Air quality has improved, there have been dramatically fewer cars on the road, we have enjoyed safer streets and more bird song. Oxfordshire’s bus operators have played a critical role in the county’s recovery during this time, continuing to maintain and provide vital routes for key workers.

But the environmental benefits were only ever likely to be short lived and as restrictions continue to ease pollution challenges will return.

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Therefore, it is imperative that key stakeholders continue to work closely together to ensure Oxford and Oxfordshire is at the forefront of positive environmental change in the UK.

The recently published Oxford City Council air quality report which revealed the findings of a detailed assessment of the sources of air pollutants across the city confirmed where we are as a community. And while there are some fantastic improvements and achievements, collectively there is still some way to go to improve the quality of the air we breathe further.

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Overall, since 2013 there has been a 7% decrease in NOx emissions from transport and we were pleased to discover NOx emissions from buses has decreased by half, from 64% to 32%. This is a significant reduction and should now help dispel the misconception that buses are the biggest contributor to pollution in the city. Put simply, they are not and it is now time for other modes to play their part in cleaning up our air. Cars are now the biggest polluter in Oxford, with NOx emissions from cars increasing by 22% from 15% to 37% of transport emissions.

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Major investments in advancements in low carbon technology by Oxford Bus Company, Thames Travel, and Stagecoach has directly contributed to the overall improvement in air quality in the city centre. In recent years operators have not only invested millions in new buses to Euro VI standard but they have also received funding via the Clean Bus Technology Fund awarded to Oxford City Council to upgrade earlier engines to the Euro VI standard. Furthermore, Oxford Bus Company introduced the first electric bus to the city earlier this year via the City Sightseeing Oxford fleet with more to come later this year.

People in Oxford are enjoying cleaner air and it can get better. Despite the significant financial challenges Covid-19 has placed on transport operators we remain committed to making further progress on this important issue.

Oxford Bus Company, Stagecoach, Thames Travel, Arriva and Red Rose have in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council submitted a bid to the DfT Bus Town fund to seek funding to start electrifying city fleets in 2022. If we are successful in the £47m bid it would see Oxford become the UK’s first all-electric bus city by 2030. The operators must also invest at least this sum of money in new buses too, so this is a huge commitment to our city and county.

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While some parts of the report highlighted continued trouble spots and causes for concern, we believe the approach the city is taking will enable further progress overtime. St Clement’s, George Street, High Street and the Cuttleslowe roundabout remain high pollution locations. The assessment reported the continued programme of converting all buses to Euro VI technology will enable Oxford’s worst streets for air pollution to achieve legal compliance. Additionally, at Worcester Street and Botley Road, the increased introduction of Euro VI buses reductions of 15% and 26% in NOx respectively were predicted.

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The planned Oxford Zero Emission Zone and Connecting Oxford proposals which would see bus gates introduced in key locations will improve the landscape further. They will help reduce the number of cars entering the city and therefore enhance air quality.

But we cannot achieve positive change working in isolation. There are of course other forms of pollution that impact on the city’s air quality, including domestic heating, waste, solvents, and agriculture. Therefore, a multi-stakeholder approach to progress is required.

We will also continue to campaign that bus travel is a major part of the solution to congestion and pollution. In ‘normal’ circumstances a bus can carry around 70 car drivers and the average large family car is around 4.8 metres long.

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This means one bus can save more than 330 metres of traffic queues, helping reduce congestion and emissions.

Oxford Mail:

The data has strongly confirmed that by public transport operators investing in clean-technology, air quality significantly improves. But to make greater overall gains to the quality of the air we all share will require an on-going behaviour change campaign to encourage more car drivers to leave their vehicles at home when travelling into Oxford and encourage use of the city’s extensive bus network.