CIVIC chiefs have come under fire for not prioritising the use of electric buses in its latest park and ride contract.

Phil Gagg, from the climate group WinACC, criticised Winchester City Council's recommendation, which will start in April next year.

Cabinet's report, which was discussed and supported on Wednesday June 21, said that the current cost of electric buses was too high for them to be a priority. 

It was also revealed that park and ride passenger numbers were less than 60 per cent of pre-Covid levels. 

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Mr Gagg said: “The only viable option must be using electric buses. The report prioritises high-carbon options. It fails to account for the climate crisis. The low passenger numbers could be as a result of parking spaces being available in the city centre. 

“WinACC says that the bus contract must have zero emissions at its core.”

The city council recently trialled electric park and ride buses over a four-week period. 

The council's report said: “Despite year-on-year growth on the park and ride service from 1993 to 2019, the lasting effects of the pandemic continue to impact working patterns and usage to the extent that passenger levels and associated income from passengers remain at less than 60 per cent of pre-Covid levels, whilst the operational costs (mainly the bus service) continue to increase due to fuel and driver costs. This has long term implications for the financial operation of the park and ride service and will influence the choice of vehicle to operate the service for the next contract period.

“The current contract is due to expire on April 18 2024. This was an eight-year contract which commenced in April 2016

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“The city council has declared a climate emergency and addressing the climate crisis and reaching carbon neutrality is one of the city council’s overarching priorities. The procurement of zero-emission buses to operate the park and ride service could be a key part of the council’s strategy, though this must be tempered against the need to present a balanced financial strategy for the authority.

“The most significant factor in the immediate future operation of the park and ride service is the decision whether or not to use zero emission buses. Only by undertaking a re-tendering exercise will these costs be established including the whole life cost of the buses and the required infrastructure to be able to run them effectively. The results of the retendering exercise will be reported back to Cabinet in autumn 2023 which will help to determine whether zero emission buses are affordable.”

The city council's Cabinet agreed to support the retendering of the park and ride contract.