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Sheffield 'the biggest city in the UK without electric buses', say activists

Clean air campaigners are calling on private operators to play their part in cleaning up the city's pollution problem.

Shishir pandey nw X Cgu8 S Ij Y unsplash

Electric buses in Manchester run by Stagecoach have already clocked up over 700,000 miles.

Photo by Shishir Pandey on Unsplash.

Sheffield is now the largest city in the UK without any zero-emission buses, campaigners have revealed.

In May, Stagecoach Yorkshire said that while they operate electric buses in "certain areas of the country", they "don't have plans to bring electric buses to Sheffield or South Yorkshire at this time."

Earlier this month, their rival First told campaigners they were "investing in low emission Euro VI vehicles", but these still rely on fossil fuels and contribute to poor air quality.

"Sheffield and South Yorkshire have no zero-emission buses on the road and Sheffield is the only large UK city without an electric bus option," Peter Harrison of the campaign Electrify Sheffield told Now Then.

"First is electrifying its fleet in every other large UK city but choosing not to in England’s fourth biggest city, Sheffield. Instead they have invested in Euro VI diesel engines which they will have to replace to meet their own 2035 target."

Sheffield Council estimate that air pollution contributes to 500 deaths a year in the city, causing strokes, lung cancer and cardiovascular disease.

First have committed to a fully zero-emission UK fleet within 14 years, and have said they won't buy any new diesel buses after December 2022.

We asked First and Stagecoach why there were no electric buses in Sheffield.

"Presently there are very few locations across the UK that have introduced electric buses due to the high cost and infrastructure that needs to be in place to run such vehicles," Nigel Eggleton, Managing Director at First South Yorkshire, told Now Then.

"In South Yorkshire, we are working closely with SYPTE [South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive] on a bid for government funding for new vehicles which could include some electric or hydrogen models that would be needed to manage the topography of the city and surrounding areas."

A spokesperson for Stagecoach told Now Then that 30% of their South Yorkshire buses now have the cleaner Euro VI diesel engines "as a result of ongoing investment and our programme to retrofit existing vehicles with new engines or new exhaust systems."

"Whilst we are continuing to make investment in electric buses, the entire UK cannot switch to electric buses at the same speed," said the spokesperson.

"Electric buses currently cost twice as much as diesel buses and government support is needed in the same way that funding has been provided to motorists to switch to electric cars."

Cambridge, which is several times smaller than Sheffield but is significantly richer, has had all-electric buses operated by Stagecoach since February 2020, while in Glasgow First have announced plans to introduce 126 more electric buses by March 2023.

Buses in the UK outside London are deregulated, meaning that local authorities can't compel private bus operators to switch to electric vehicles or make the decision themselves, as happens in almost every city in mainland Europe.

Earlier this month, local council leaders and Sheffield City Region Mayor Dan Jarvis decided not to start the process of bringing the region's bus network back under public control – as is happening in Leeds and Manchester.

Jarvis recently announced funding to replace a third of community transport buses with electric vehicles – but these are a fraction of the overall number of buses in the region.

"Euro VI diesel buses are the cheaper option, but they have two main issues," said Harrison, in response to the statements from First and Stagecoach.

"Euro VI buses are still diesel, so keep a solid reliance on fossil fuels. The true health and environmental impact of nano fuel additives being used like Envirox is still unknown."

"It's all so unnecessary when electric buses are not only available but are being built in Yorkshire.”

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