HUNDREDS of buses in south Hampshire are being fitted with free wireless Internet this month under a £7.4m scheme to boost the local economy and cut emissions.

Passengers with Internet-enabled smartphones, tablets or laptop computers will be able to read emails, shop online, or catch-up with work as they travel.

Wi-Fi is being fitted to the majority of buses in Southampton , Eastleigh , Winchester , Test Valley, Eastleigh and the New Forest by the end of the month.

They include First, Stagecoach South, UniLink, Bluestar , Wilts and Dorset, and Black Velvet buses.

As previously reported, the Department of Transport has awarded £4.5m towards the scheme after a joint bid by Southampton, Portsmouth and Hampshire councils.

The council partnership, called Transport for South Hampshire, aims to improve the quality of bus travel in the county, increase bus usage by eight per cent to cut congestion, and reduce carbon emissions by 4,205 tonnes. Bus companies are putting £2.1m into the scheme.

Chairman of Transport for South Hampshire, councillor Mel Kendal, said free Wi-Fi was one of a range of initiatives being worked on with bus operators.

He said improved bus travel would help to reduce congestion and grow the local economy.

Councillor Asa Thorpe, Southampton City Council’s cabinet member for environment and transport, said: “As if the environmental argument for public transport wasn’t compelling enough, now passengers can use local buses as a mobile office while they travel.

“This new service should lead to a good uptake of people wanting to travel smarter and take the bus in Southampton and across Hampshire.”

Nearly 140 buses will be refurbished under the scheme with new upholstery, 500 will get display screens showing the next stops and new LED lighting, and Smartphone apps giving bus timetable information will also be launched.