Phil Southall, Oxford Bus Company managing director

The stark climate emergency warnings issued at COP26 are nothing new.

But the reality is that time is running out and the environment’s last chance saloon is dawning. We now need radical action, rather than more hot air from politicians.

Two thirds of what we need to do to achieve net zero by 2050 requires the behaviour change of citizens, technological improvements will only account for one third.

There has been progress, the target to phase out sales of new petrol and diesel road vehicles by 2040 was a welcome start. But we need to go much further, quicker. Urgent attention is required on how we reduce car use and in turn, reduce congestion on UK roads.

This is not about banning cars but using public transport for some journeys where it is sensible to do so.

In Oxford, congestion is bordering on a crisis. It has severely impacted on journey times of our services. Our city 5 journey time from Oxford to Blackbird Leys has increased by 16 minutes (22%) in seven years.

While the introduction of the Cowley LTNs has added a further seven to eight minutes during afternoon school times, a 33 per cent increase on 2014 levels.

An Oxford City Council air quality report revealed cars are the biggest polluter in Oxford, with car NOx increasing by 22 per cent from 15 per cent, to 37 per cent of transport emissions. The report stated NOx emissions from buses decreased by half, from 64 per cent to 32 per cent.

This figure will improve further as we invest in zero emission technology.

Behaviour change must be encouraged as despite improvements in technology in the UK, transport emissions are only three per cent lower than in 1990.

We won’t achieve a greener Britain if the population does not change its travel habits. We need a policy framework citizens can buy into.

We have proved we can change. Most people now use their own reusable shopping bags and water bottles. But most still drive in their own vehicles.

There is a belief by using cleaner vehicles people can continue their existing lifestyles – this is simply not true. Small incremental changes will not be enough to hit net-zero.

Two thirds of fuel supply and half of surface transport decarbonisation required by 2050 needs to happen in the next 10 years to achieve net-zero by 2050. This means we must switch to sustainable modes of transport, very quickly.

A double-decker bus can take 75 cars off the road. Yet, often buses sit in traffic with space on-board surrounded by cars with empty seats all travelling in the same direction.

The carbon savings of switching the car for bus are huge. Travelling from Abingdon to Oxford by bus rather than car for a single journey would save 1,840g of carbon compared to driving – the equivalent of making 780 cups of tea.

Most people choose the car for convenience. We need to change our thinking. Public transport might not be as quick, but you can spend your time more productively in transit and get more exercise.

We need a robust approach to tackling the shift from private to public transport and active travel. There is now a consensus among transport planning officials that achieving net-zero requires a significant reduction in traffic.

This means making car travel less convenient in and around cities. I know this won’t be popular at first, but mass adoption of public transport to be the ‘natural first choice’ for more journeys will make a big difference. It is first choice in big capital cities and that culture needs to be adopted across the UK.

We are making modest progress in Oxford with plans for a Zero Emission Zone. But can go further and follow London’s lead with more demand management measures, whether this be a congestion charge or a Workplace Parking Levy across the city.

At Oxford Bus Company we have invested millions in new buses to Euro VI standard and also received funding via the Clean Bus Technology Fund awarded to Oxford City Council to upgrade earlier engines to the Euro VI standard.

We have bid for DfT Zero Emission Buses for Regional Areas funding in partnership with Oxfordshire County Council to start electrifying our fleet in 2023. While smart phone technology means passengers can easily plan journeys and pay via contactless.

There are no easy or painless answers. We must be bold and creative to achieve net-zero and quickly.

Using private vehicles for all the journeys we make cannot stand the test of time. For the sake of our planet, we don’t have time. What we need now is central Government policies to encourage ‘speedy boarding’ on to buses, trains and bikes.