The government has announced a new £120 million scheme to help roll out zero-emission bus services in England. The intriguingly named ZEBRA (Zero-Emission Buses Regional Area) scheme allows local authorities to bid for funding for new green buses.

The Department for Transport (DfT) says the funding will allow up to 500 zero-emission buses to be introduced in English regions. This is part of the government’s wider plan to introduce some 4,000 zero-emission buses in the coming years.

It’s also part of a government initiative to revamp bus services, spending £3 billion to make bus travel more appealing and thereby reduce car use. The DfT says changes to bus travel will include lower fares and more services, as well as measures designed to make services more reliable.

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And the DfT has also indicated its intention to end the sale of new diesel buses – just as it has done with the 2030 ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars. However, the department has not yet decided on a date for such a ban, and there are plans to launch a consultation that will inform the decision.

The government is calling on councils to make their applications for funding before May 21, 2021, which will give them access to a “fast-track” process that allows “well-developed proposals” to be pushed through the system more quickly. However, councils that need more time to come up with proposals will have until June 25, 2021 to submit their applications.

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The announcement comes as the city of Coventry received the first “pot” of funding from the all-electric bus towns and cities competition. That meant the city received £50 million to revamp its bus services and “entirely replace” the existing bus fleet with electric models.

“We’ve set out our vision of how we’re going to make buses better in this country, and now we’re getting on with delivering it,” said Transport Secretary Grant Shapps. “The launch of the scheme today means we’re giving businesses and local authorities the tools to help deliver the 4,000 zero-emission buses we said we would introduce, which will dramatically improve air quality in towns and cities across the country, helping us achieve our net-zero ambitions.”

Meanwhile Silviya Barrett, head of policy, research and projects at the Campaign for Better Transport, said the news was positive for bus makers, as well as passengers and environmental campaigners.

“Zero-emission buses are great news all round,” she said. “As well as addressing climate change and air pollution, this funding will boost the bus manufacturing sector and give more passengers the best modern buses. We’re glad the government has appreciated the need to speed up the transition to zero-emission buses.”