FirstGroup targets 600 electric buses as green fleet investment revs up

FirstGroup, the Scottish transport heavyweight, is to spend an additional £35 million to accelerate the rollout of electric buses as it looks to have hundreds of them on the roads over the coming year.

The firm said the move would take total bus capital expenditure to as much as £125m in its 2023/24 financial year. It aims to have an electric bus fleet numbering more than 600 vehicles by March 2024.

The fresh investment follows successful applications made in partnership with four local authorities where First Bus operates, to secure £25m of government co-funding to accelerate investment in new electric buses and related infrastructure through the Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (Zebra) funding scheme. The funding is in addition to that already awarded under the first Zebra scheme in March 2022 and will allow First Bus to order an additional 117 electric vehicles.

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Aberdeen-headquartered FirstGroup described the investment as a “significant milestone” for its First Bus business, with its York and Norwich operations set to become the UK’s first bus depots outside of London to run fully electric fleets. Another two depots, Bramley in West Yorkshire and Hoeford in Hampshire, will also see the introduction of electric bus fleets and infrastructure as a result of this funding.

Graham Sutherland, FirstGroup chief executive, said: “As a leading regional bus operator, we have a key role to play in the decarbonisation of public transport in the UK. The acceleration of our investment in the electrification of our bus fleet and infrastructure, supported by co-funding from government, is another important step for FirstGroup as we deliver on our commitment to decarbonise our fleet and deliver benefits for all of our stakeholders.”

First Bus is the second largest regional bus operator in the UK, serving two-thirds of the 15 largest conurbations with a fleet of about 4,900 buses. Last month, the group revealed that it had snapped up a bus business that provides rail replacement and private hire contract services in the south of England.

The firm said the acquisition of Ensignbus would provide a “number of synergies” and growth opportunities in the business-to-business (B2B) and bus vehicle dealership markets. Ensignbus’ commercial bus operations comprise two B2B segments that include rail replacement and private hire contract operations and a local bus route network complementary to First Bus’ operations in Essex. Bosses noted that the business had a modern vehicle fleet of 55 buses that would require “limited” capital expenditure for several years.

In September, rival bus operator McGill’s promised more electric bus services for the west of Scotland with plans to build a new Greenock depot and expand two existing sites. The addition of the new electric bus depot and scaling-up of the sites at Inchinnan and Johnstone will bring 41 new electric buses to the area. This will take the total number of electric buses in the McGill’s fleet to 109. The bus operator is expanding its working relationship with Zenobē, the electric fleet and battery storage specialist, to facilitate the expansion plans.

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