Registrations grow back 44.6%

Britain’s new bus, coach and minibus market is growing back after three challenging years, according to the latest figures published today by the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders (SMMT).

There were 4,932 new units registered in 2023, representing a 44.6% increase on 2022 levels as passenger confidence continues to return, although uptake remains 16% below 2019 levels.

The market was driven by strong investment in single and double-decker buses, with registrations up 52.5% and 173.6% respectively. Minibuses also recorded strong growth, rising 18.3% over the year as fleets across the UK invested in new passenger transport assets.

Electric or hydrogen buses accounted for 45.1% of new single- and double-decker registrations, which the SMMT says is almost treble the new car market share. With 1,159 ZEV buses of all types entering service last year, the UK is Europe’s biggest ZEV bus market by volume.

Uptake has been supported by Zero Emission Bus Regional Area (ZEBRA) funding, originally awarded in 2022. With 58 expressions of interest filed for the second round of funding at the end of 2023, the SMMT says ensuring rapid approval and allocation of cash will be essential to help more regions roll out affordable, zero-emission mass mobility more quickly.

Conversely, the minibus market is struggling to invest in zero-emission options, which the SMMT says is due in part to licensing restrictions. Most minibuses are based on heavy vans, but while van drivers have a licence derogation allowing them to drive zero-emission vehicles weighing up to 4.25 tonnes, minibus drivers will not be able to do so until 2025. Bringing this date forward would unleash demand, says the SMMT, with many minibus fleets presently delaying their zero-emission vehicle investment until their existing drivers are permitted to drive them.

Mike Hawes, SMMT Chief Executive, said: “Britain’s bus sector is recovering strongly, powered by rising passenger numbers and government funding that is finally delivering new vehicles to routes up and down the country. Zero emission buses are on the verge of becoming the mainstay of what is now Europe’s biggest ZEV but market but we need the next round of funding – fast – to put even more on the road. Speeding up licence derogations could unleash demand in the minibus market, helping provide zero emission mass mobility for all with the air quality, carbon emission and wider economic benefits that come with this transition.”

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