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Protests could boost modal shift, says bus leader

Rhodri Clark
27 September 2019

The controversial protests of Extinction Rebellion could have made it easier to persuade motorists to switch to greener modes of transport, a senior bus industry figure claimed last week.

Scott Pearson, who chairs CPT Wales’ bus commission, said the protest movement’s road blockages in London and other cities this year had caused disruption but had also raised the public’s awareness of carbon emissions. Pearson is managing director of Newport Transport, which took delivery in July of Wales’ first electric bus. He hopes that the city’s eventual fleet of 15 electric buses will appeal to people seeking an easy way to reduce their use of fossil fuels.

“While we may not all agree with the way Extinction Rebellion go about their business, nobody can argue that they’ve done a big positive in awareness,” he said. “Yes, it’s a pain in the neck, but I wonder if people like them have got the public to think, ‘I’ve got to look at this now.’”

The bus industry had been trying to tell the public for years that modal shift from car to bus, even where the bus is fuelled by diesel, is a way of reducing personal carbon footprints. However, the message had not persuaded many motorists to switch modes.

“We said that Euro V and Euro VI buses are cleaner than the car. For some reason, the public haven’t bought it. I think that’s something to do with the politicians,” said Pearson. He predicted that, where the comparison was between a petrol or diesel car and an electric bus, the public would see an obvious environmental benefit in using the bus.

He drew comparisons with the battle between Betamax and VHS videos which the superior Betamax format had lost because customers borrowed more VHS videos from hire shops. “It’s customers who make the choice. This time around we’ve got an environmental issue.”

Newport Transport has struck an innovative deal with battery leasing company Zenobe and the Department for Transport to introduce 15 electric buses built by Chinese company Yutong. The initial bus is a former demonstrator and is charged from a mains supply. 

The bus depot’s roof has more than 200 solar panels, a number likely to increase to 500 or more once Zenobe has installed a battery farm which will store electricity generated during the day for transfer to the buses at night.

Seven of the buses are funded with the help of the Department for Transport’s Ultra Low Emissions Bus Scheme and will be used on the Caerleon Road corridor, in line with the application to the DfT. The corridor has air pollution hotspots.

There are no restrictions on the deployment of the other vehicles, funded by Newport Transport and Zenobe. 

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