YORK’S air quality improvement plan could fail if a decent deal cannot be struck over Park&Ride buses, it has been warned.

An estimated 100 people a year die in York because of air pollution, and councillors and campaigners spoke this week about the damage that could be done if low emission buses are not brought in.

With the contract for Park&Ride buses in York due to expire at the end of February, the council began to tender for new deal earlier this year, but last week revealed no satisfactory bid had been made.

The air quality fears were raised at a council scrutiny meeting on Tuesday night, when senior transport officials also revealed they had asked for no payment at all from bus companies for the contract, but still received no satisfactory bids from bus companies.

Neil Ferris, City of York Council’s director of place, said the current contract brings in around £800,000 a year for the council, but they had set the bar for a new contract at zero in order to attract more bidders - and still did not get a satisfactory bid.

He added: “The executive could still have accepted or rejected a tender, if it was below the expected income level for the council.”

Cllr Ian Gillies, executive member for transport, said many suggestions made by councillors about things like bus frequency, environmental standards, and the number of buses running, had been included in the contract specification when the unsuccessful tender invitation was being drawn up.

He and Mr Ferris told the committee that with no bids appearing from bus companies, it was clear something was making the deal look unprofitable and unattractive to bus companies.

Earlier, Cllr Gillies’ predecessor as transport boss former councillor Dave Merrett had warned the committee that plans to cut air pollution in York relied heavily the Park&Ride deal.

York Press:

Mr Merrett said an air quality strategy he helped develop fundamentally depended on being able to clean up the buses, and without that efforts to prevent some of the 400,000 premature deaths caused in the country each year by air pollution would be stymied.

He urged the council to look at alternative ways of getting low emissions buses on to the new Park&Ride contract, even by using its own resources to part purchase the new vehicles.

However,  Conservative councillor John Galvin said while no one would disagree with an ambition to get the best deal possible on a Park&Ride, the council would not be in a position to buy new electric buses, and had to rely on the private sector to provide the services.

At the end of the meeting the scrutiny councillors agreed not to make and specific recommendations over the new contract.

Later this week the authority’s ruling executive will be asked to approve a year-long extension to the current contract with First Bus, and to give council staff permission to talk to bus companies about a new tendering process.