The results of an 12-month long electric bus trial run by the ACT government have shown that electric buses offer a viable path towards the territory’s Net Zero Emissions strategy, despite flaws that resulted in under-servicing of the electric vehicles involved in the trial.
As part of its mission to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040, the ACT government trialed diesel, hybrid and electric buses to compare operational, financial and environmental factors.
The results of the trial, which commenced in 2017 were published on Monday, finding that the electric buses were better in terms of total cost of ownership as well as from an economic perspective.
“As we plan for a zero-emissions transport fleet, we’ve been trialling electric buses to test the technology to make sure it meets our network needs and can move Canberrans around efficiently and reliably,” said ACT minister for transport Chris Steel in a statement.
“Overall the fully-electric buses performed best in relation to environmental emissions, energy efficiency, and whole of life economic costs,” said Steel.
However, the results also suggested that the electric bus trialled as highly unreliable compared to the diesel and hybrid versions.
Compared with the Scania diesel bus involved in the trial which missed only 0.8% of its peak usage times, the Carbridge Toro battery electric bus missed 35.7% of its peaks, and the hybrid missed 14.2%.
According to industry experts familiar with the trial, this was due to a number of factors that occurred due to a change in management of one of the companies involved in supplying the buses.
The timing of the trial resulted in a different bus being supplied and some servicing issues regarding suspension and brakes.
Former Carbridge chief executive Luke Todd told The Driven that this meant some “some minor after-sales issues occurred that should have been on the spot fixes”, impacting the performance of the vehicles and keeping them off the road than longer than if a proper servicing package had been specified by the trial.
Toby Roxburgh, managing director of Electromotiv, which supplies charging solutions for the zero emissions heavy vehicle industry, also told The Driven that an electric bus with different specifications to the 68-standing diesel and hybrid buses was used in the trial.
Unable to supply a bus within the timeframe set by the trial that met the standards of ACT public buses (such as how many passengers it can carry) , a 35-seater Carbridge Toro (55 standing – the type that is used as airport shuttles) was used in the trial instead.
“Going into the trial, the bus they wanted wasn’t available due to a time issue,” says Roxburgh, adding that as the buses were also used on different routes that the trial didn’t offer a meaningful comparison.
Todd, who now heads Sydney-based Nexport, says the ACT’s decision to go ahead with investing in electric buses despite the trial’s results is justified.
“The report was technically correct….there is just some work to be done on after sales support,” he says, adding that there are a number of charging and servicing support providers that stack up.
He points to the 3.5 million kilometres successfully driven by BYD buses at Sydney and Brisbane airport in real world operation since 2016.
“They have proven to be far more reliable than diesel or hybrid buses – that is factually correct,” he says.
Despite the performance issues, the ACT is still looking to electric buses as a form of zero emissions transport, indicating that the trial was success, he says.
“The trial has shown that zero emissions vehicles are a viable alternative for Canberra’s public transport network going forward,” Steel says.
“The speed in which the technology has already changed since the trial, means that transit operators can have much greater confidence in newer zero emissions buses that are now emerging on the market.
“The trial results will inform the work that is already underway in the ACT to develop, plan for the infrastructure, investment and skills needed to transition to zero-emissions transport,” Steel said.
Swissport, which has since acquired Carbridge was involved in supporting trial process but a spokesperson for the company says that it now has a focus on supplying electric buses in the aviation industry, and therefore has not pursued further engagement.
Swissport currently runs the electric shuttle buses at Sydney and Brisbane airport and has just introduced the first electric bus for trial at Perth airport.
Bridie Schmidt is lead reporter for The Driven, sister site of Renew Economy. She specialises in writing about new technology and has been writing about electric vehicles for two years. She has a keen interest in the role that zero emissions transport has to play in sustainability and is co-organiser of the Northern Rivers Electric Vehicle Forum.