Although poisonous nitrogen dioxide levels have fallen in Oxford over recent years, buses still account for 56 per cent of all emissions in the city centre. The gas is said to be the ‘main pollutant of concern’.
As part of a Government scheme, the city will be given the money and work with bus operators to make the scheme work.
Oxford Bus Company, which also owns City Sightseeing Oxford, and Stagecoach are working with the city council on the project.
The project will see Oxford Bus Company’s familiar City Sightseeing Oxford buses become fully electric.
Over the last decade, levels of nitrogen dioxide at a variety of roadsides in Oxford have dropped by an average of 37 per cent. But parts are still dangerously polluted.
Nitrogen dioxide can cause respiratory problems. It inflames the lining of the lungs and can reduce people’s immunity to lung infections. It can lead to problems including wheezing, coughing, colds, flu and bronchitis.
Tom Hayes, the city council’s board member for safer and greener environment, said: “People living and working in parts of Oxford, including my St Clement’s ward, are being forced to breathe dangerously polluted air. For their health and wellbeing, we need to be urgently cleaning our toxic air and encouraging cleanser, greener journeys by bus.
“Retrofitting so many local buses will ensue the Oxford bus fleet meet the highest standard. We’re only able to make this step-change, so that the council can make the zero-emissions zone a practical reality, because Government agreed to our funding request.
“In a time of austerity when our government grant falls to zero next year, Oxford will only become the electric vehicle capital of the UK if Government listens to our city council and provides extra crucial funding.”
It is estimated that 5.5 tonnes of nitrogen dioxide will be saved. Another 57.2 tonnes of other nitrogen oxides will be saved in each year of the five-year project.
The 78 buses will be fitted to the Euro 6 standard.
That is the standard that all new cars sold in the UK must meet for exhaust emissions of nitrogen oxide.
Last week, the UK was referred to the European Court of Justice over air pollution.
Mr Hayes added the council ‘welcomed’ the decision and shared the EU’s commitment to ‘standing up for our basic right to breathe in clean air’.
“We strongly believe – given Oxford’s toxic and illegal levels of air pollution in some streets – that urgent action is needed. Every year there are tens of thousands of early deaths from dirty air in the UK; the benefits of cleaner air in Oxford are obvious.
“Oxford City Council is leading the world in tackling harmful air pollution by proposing the world’s first Zero Emission Zone from 2020, but we need Government support, particularly to help fund the installation of more electric vehicle charging points in Oxford.”
When the project was first announced in February, Phil Southall, the Oxford Bus Company’s managing director, said: “This is excellent news for the city of Oxford and is the result of key stakeholders working together to unlock crucial Government funding for the wider benefit of the community we all serve.
“This is the first step in a long progress towards introducing ultra-low or zero emission buses more widely within Oxford.”