Bus bosses hope to upgrade Sheffield’s fleet of vehicles before a proposed congestion charge of up to £50 a day to drive in the city centre comes into force.
Ben Gilligan, director of public transport at South Yorkshire Passenger Transport Executive, said he wanted to work with bus operators to minimise any potential fare rises.
Sheffield Council said the ‘Clean Air Zone’ will help tackle pollution and ‘save lives’.
The plans will be considered by the council’s cabinet on November 27 and residents, businesses, taxi drivers and bus companies are set to be consulted from early 2019, with a possible implementation date of 2021.
Mr Gilligan said: “We are really proud to have amongst the lowest fares in the country and we don’t want to do anything that risks this achievement. There are many issues that affect ticket prices and we can’t be sure what they will be in 2021.
“We want to work with bus operators to upgrade our buses to minimise any charges. As a bus partnership, we are clear our intention is not to increase fares to cover the cost of any pollution charges.”
Kevin Belfield, managing director of First South Yorkshire, said the company was working with the council on the proposals.
He said: “Air pollution is a big challenge in all large cities. Bus operators play a vital role in helping to find solutions to reduce air pollution and we want to do even more. Buses also help to reduce emissions made by cars, as one double decker can take 75 cars off the road.
“We are working closely with Sheffield Council on this issue, and we’re awaiting further details on the formal consultation for this new proposal.
“Figures show that buses contribute to 10 per cent of emissions. Over the last few years, the Council, First Bus and Stagecoach have invested millions in new ultra-low emission vehicles, including £9m this year.
“We have recently begun an extended program of upgrading older vehicles to help reduce emissions in the city to bring them up to the cleanest standards
“We are pleased that the Council will be seeking extra investment in the city’s bus fleet from the government. Our ambition is to have really clean and compliant buses in Sheffield, which would mean that buses don’t end up paying any proposed charge.”
The Sheffield Bus Partnership is a voluntary agreement between SYPTE, Sheffield City Council and bus operators First South Yorkshire, Stagecoach Sheffield, TM Travel and Sheffield Community Transport.
Coun Jack Scott, cabinet member for transport and development, said he hoped the charge will push people to choose more environmentally friendly vehicles.
He said: “Air pollution is a major health problem and we know that people across the country including our children are breathing air that is not safe.
“The government is not taking this issue seriously at all. They have completely failed to give local councils the tools and resources we need, whilst forcing us to take the difficult decisions that are now needed because of their inaction.
“We have no desire to charge people but this issue is so serious that we have to take these actions to protect local people and save lives in Sheffield. If we want to make our air safer for people in Sheffield, we have to take these actions.
“Our intention is to remove the most polluting vehicles from our road network by encouraging drivers to upgrade to cleaner vehicles rather than pay the charge.
“We need funding from government to provide support, advice and finance to encourage people to upgrade their vehicles if required.
“My vision is for air that is clean and safe for every single person in Sheffield. Achieving this is clearly a major piece of work but the council can’t do it alone.
“As a city, we need to commit to lasting changes to protect our city’s vulnerable residents, particularly our children and older people, who are most at risk. Standing by whilst people become poorly and die is simply not an option.”
The council say they will need £40 million from the government to put the charge in place including cameras and signs.
It comes under the council’s Clean Air Strategy, which launched in 2017, to improve the quality of the air in the city.