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Getting serious about investing in our environment

This month the Low Emission Zone launched for North Street and Western Road, a project we have been working closely with the council on over the past year. The LEZ’s main contributor is the city’s 280 strong bus fleet. There will be an improvement to 25 taxis but nothing yet for other vehicles such as vans and HGV’s. The LEZ has our full support and we are backing it with significant investment. We have recently enhanced our existing fleet to include the latest hybrid buses, as well as retrofitting 50 older buses with selective catalytic reduction treatment. This raises the emissions performance from Euro 3 standard to better than Euro 5. A further £5 million investment has been made this year into the latest Euro 6 energy efficient Wright Streetdecks which raises the bar higher still to deliver lower emissions and improve air quality.

Looking ahead, our next batch of Euro 6 buses will see 21 vehicles being allocated to the popular route 1 which serves Mile Oak, Portslade, Hove, Brighton city centre, St James’s Street, right through to the Royal Sussex County Hospital and Whitehawk.

This news was announced at the well-attended St James’s Street Community Action Group meeting this week. With operations director Mike Best, we listened carefully to the concerns of residents and business owners and announced some further news.

We have proposed to consult with bus users, local residents, Buswatch and others stakeholders about the issue of buses serving St James’s Street. Some members felt a lower frequency of buses would be beneficial to lowering emissions in the street. Some suggested withdrawing buses altogether. However, others argued the buses provide a vital lifeline by offering key city links for local residents, and deem the bus service an important aspect to the economic and social life of the street.

At the meeting figures were presented by council officers that showed buses accounted for just one seventh of the total number of vehicles operating in the street, illustrating that buses are just part of a wider local transport consideration. But we are open to explore various options. I announced that we would trial transferring a limited number of buses to Edward Street. I believe we will all learn a great deal from this and it will help better inform future routing strategies. We will approach this through proper consultation and have a continual dialogue throughout the trial to get real feedback on the choices and issues faced by bus users.

We would also support extending the LEZ to include St James’s Street. This will ensure that as the bar continues to rise on energy efficient buses, the St James’s Street community will gain the same benefits as North Street and Western Road.

We continue to work with Ricardo Engineering of Shoreham who have been brilliant in helping us to research emissions and air quality. We are constantly looking for technological advancements to improve our environmental performance. Brighton’s buses were the first in the country to be tested in service conditions (this type of testing usually occurs only at the developmental and approval stage). Now we are researching fly-wheel technology which also contributes to better fuel consumption and lower carbon emissions. There will be more on this in a future blog.

We have also joined the Sussex Air Partnership where matters concerning air quality, technological and scientific advancements are shared. We are still actively supporting and promoting the good work of the UNESCO recognised Brighton & Lewes Downs World Biosphere, as we have done since the outset of the Biosphere bid.

The success the city has achieved in reaching the highest level of bus usage in the country* is really important. We must sustain this for the economic and social life of the city. A legacy has been created that needs to be nurtured and developed. I am very mindful of the need to tread carefully to ensure any measure, such as trialling the move of some journeys from St James’s Street, does not damage that legacy. The last thing the city needs right now is to spark an increase in car usage.

I welcome your feedback and ideas @citybusnews

*Department of Transport annual public transport statistics: 163 annual journeys by bus per head of population. This is the highest of any local authority area outside of London.