Electric buses missed 35 per cent of their peak services during Canberra trial

Lachlan Roberts 30 September 2019 65
Electric bus.

During the trial, electric buses missed 35.7 per cent of their peak services. Photo: ACT Government.

A trial of electric buses in Transport Canberra’s fleet has found that the battery-powered vehicles missed 35 per cent of their peak services, but the ACT Government said it remains determined to replace its ageing 450-strong bus fleet with zero-emissions vehicles by 2040.

The ACT Government ran a 12-month trial comparing two fully electric buses and two hybrid buses against three low-emission diesel buses which are currently the backbone of Transport Canberra’s bus fleet.

Despite the electric buses easily having the best environmental performance, the trial found that the electric buses could only carry 55 passengers due to the additional weight of its batteries, whereas their diesel counterparts could carry 68 passengers.

The trial also found that the electric buses were unreliable, missing 35.7 per cent of their peak services compared to a 0.8 per cent failure rate for diesel buses.

The electric buses also had nearly half the range of the diesel and hybrid buses, only being able to travel 450 kilometres compared to the 810-kilometre range of diesel buses.

Despite the damning comparison, ACT Minister for Transport Chris Steel said the future of diesel buses is limited due to the ACT’s commitment to transitioning to a zero-emissions fleet by 2040.

“There is no doubt that in terms of operational reliability, the diesel buses performed much better than the electric or hybrid buses, with fewer unscheduled breakdowns,” Mr Steel said in a speech to the Australian Transport Research Forum.

“The fully electric bus proved to be the most unreliable of the three bus types during the trial and often missed peak services. But this is likely to be improved with better build quality, better local familiarity and access to spare parts which would, in turn, reduce downtime and improve reliability in the future.”

Despite the failures of electric buses, Mr Steel said he believes the zero-emission buses that are now available far exceed the technology and build quality of those evaluated in the ACT trial.

The trial also surveyed passengers onboard the electric buses, with most patrons saying that that they were satisfied with both the hybrid and electric buses in terms of noise, smell and smoothness of travel.

“Despite the reliability issues experienced with the electric and hybrid buses trialled, we are very optimistic about the future of zero-emissions buses,” Mr Steel said.

“The speed in which the technology has already changed means that transit operators can have much greater confidence in new zero-emission buses that are now emerging on the market.

Chris Steel.

Despite the failures from electric buses in the trial, Mr Steel said the Government is committed to the 2040 target. Photo: File.

“While low emission diesel buses will still remain the backbone of our bus fleet in the medium term, their future is limited. The trial has shown that zero-emissions vehicles are a viable alternative for Canberra’s public transport network going forward.”

Mr Steel said the ACT Government will continue to review the technology and capability of electric and other zero-emission buses available including the latest trials in NSW which are demonstrating “promising results”.

“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,” he said.

“These trials are enabling transit agencies like ours to develop a detailed plan for the procurement of zero-emissions buses and the infrastructure required to support it [on] a large scale, upgrades to buses and facilities, and how we ensure that zero-emission buses can reliably service our large network footprint.”

Bus comparison chart.

Summary of the key comparisons of diesel, electric and hybrid buses used in the trial. Chart: ACT Government.

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65 Responses to Electric buses missed 35 per cent of their peak services during Canberra trial
Tim Walsh Tim Walsh 5:31 pm 04 Oct 19

Im reading alot of whinging about the EV buses here. Comments about the reliability etc. Yet failing to acknowledge the buses trialed is older tech, and, spare parts not readily available.

What did the very first petroleum based vehicle look and perform like? Yep. Slow, low mileage, terrible performance.

Fundamentally EV technology is superior in every sense. Give it a few years and watch price continue to drop, performance continue to rise

Anthony Colin Edmunds Anthony Colin Edmunds 4:20 am 02 Oct 19

Its time to develop the Hydrogen power cell,the type where the fuel is water,split into hydrogen/oxygen and then burned ,the exhaust is then Water.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 12:00 pm 02 Oct 19

    Anthony Colin Edmunds they have those on buses for years now too London trailed it and had it on a couple of routes, think Perth had a couple too.

    In London the hydrogen buses have just been replaced by electric buses.

    Anthony Colin Edmunds Anthony Colin Edmunds 10:01 pm 02 Oct 19

    Ashley Wright

Anthony Colin Edmunds Anthony Colin Edmunds 4:16 am 02 Oct 19

They're not zero emissions,they just shift the emissions somewhere else.The old trolley buses in the UK were ultra reliable and all did millions of miles until they were scrapped in favour of more flexible diesels..

    Peter Hatfield Peter Hatfield 12:33 pm 03 Oct 19

    The ACT purchases 100% renewable power. Thee are no emissions.

Christopher Stuart Veilands Christopher Stuart Veilands 8:11 pm 01 Oct 19

33% success rate and thats the winner. What bus will pick up the stranded passengers. A diesel?

Capital Retro Capital Retro 9:15 am 01 Oct 19

“Just a thought, but why not install light weight film solar panels on top of the buses.”

It would cost more to clean them every day than it would be worth and there is the capital cost also.

Dan Smith Dan Smith 9:07 am 01 Oct 19

The dirty power required to build the batteries, pollution from mining the ore to make the batteries is off the charts. Same with pollution to make solar cells and the factories that are completely unregulated.

But go ahead and give yourself a pat on the back because you can’t see that pollution and destruction of

The environment.

    Julie Macklin Julie Macklin 10:07 am 01 Oct 19

    Yes, never build solar/wind farms etc, because the power to build them comes from coal. Only build clean energy when we can build it with clean energy. I see your thinking.

Ren Webb Ren Webb 8:41 am 01 Oct 19

Bring on all electric buses. That’s the difference we can make in Australia/the world. Experimenting and showing what is possible. Climate change is constantly proving to be worse than we thought while the solutions are always cheaper and easier once we try.

Cary Elliot Johnson Cary Elliot Johnson 6:19 am 01 Oct 19

Just a thought, but why not install light weight film solar panels on top of the buses. They are in the sun every day so why not boost the batteries whilst driving around?

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 4:28 am 05 Oct 19

    Cary Elliot Johnson electrics and hybrids get a boost everytime they slow down.

Jeannou Zoides Jeannou Zoides 10:12 pm 30 Sep 19

Early days London has electric buses and they are great

Gerard Dwyer Gerard Dwyer 10:12 pm 30 Sep 19

Interesting read.

Janet Hutchison Janet Hutchison 9:39 pm 30 Sep 19

I spent some time in the UK in the late 60s. The milk was delivered in an electric truck. It's time to roll-out the electric buses, unless another kind of renewable powered bus is ready to order.

Gabriel Spacca Gabriel Spacca 9:09 pm 30 Sep 19

I think we should go back to Whale Blubber to light our lamps.

    Martin Budden Martin Budden 9:39 pm 30 Sep 19

    Gabriel Spacca because whales are carbon neutral. Makes sense.

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 7:40 am 01 Oct 19

    Gabriel Spacca we orca do something.

    Jim Jim Jim Jim 2:45 pm 01 Oct 19

    Martin Budden unfortunately not...they produce a lot of methane.


    Martin Budden Martin Budden 5:35 pm 01 Oct 19

    Jim Hosie so we'd be removing methane-producers from the system! Perfect!

    Anthony Colin Edmunds Anthony Colin Edmunds 7:00 pm 03 Oct 19

    Gabriel Spacca you will be able to import from Japan !

Chris Williams Chris Williams 8:44 pm 30 Sep 19

The ABC ran almost the exact story with an additional section headed......

"Industry figures criticise 'incomplete' trial"

Toby Roxburgh, who runs electric bus infrastructure provider Electromotiv, said the results were a misrepresentation of the technology's capability and that electric buses were reliable.

.....included the use of the Carbridge Toro, an "airport-style" bus designed to ferry passengers on short journeys between carparks and runways.


Trish Roberts Trish Roberts 7:56 pm 30 Sep 19

No, according to the news tonight.

Darron Marks Darron Marks 7:15 pm 30 Sep 19

I think they should buy a few buses and run an extended trial over a few years. Reliability issues might be due to not having the correct infastructure in place to maintain them. A longer trial would help to mitigate these types of issues.

As long as the cost is kept to a minimum and the bus manufacturer contributes to financing a portion of the trial. I have always thought that given the stop start nature of buses given they have regenerative breaking they would be the more efficient form of engine technology.

I also think flywheel technology should also be considered for testing on light rail and traditional diesel engine buses. To improve their efficiency

Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 6:57 pm 30 Sep 19

Can't see this improving an already embattled bus service. But don't let providing a decent service stand in the way of ideology.

    Ashley Wright Ashley Wright 5:24 am 01 Oct 19

    Rob Chalmers Australia is one of the few (developed) counties in the world where diesel buses are still the norm rather than the exception.

    Most of Europe has used Hybrid buses for the best part of 15 years and its been the bog standard for almost 10 years now.

    And electric has been around for many years too and with improved battery technology is now becoming the norm rather than the exception for new orders.

    Now what did you say about ideology? Maybe the ideology or maybe it is the mentality of many Australians that is wrong rather than the government.

    Rob Chalmers Rob Chalmers 11:42 am 01 Oct 19

    Ashley Wright A move to electric or hybrid buses is the environmentally responsible thing to do granted. But delivering an effective service to Canberrans should be the prime objective of Action and local government. You are aware of the recent hash that has been made of the buses with spoke and hub changes, loss of routes, 8-900 metre walks to bus stops,buses not turning up at all and now 2 hour waits between buses on weekends. A move to a less reliable bus (according to an ACT Government trial) would be more acceptable if the service was already satisfactory. Europe produces a higher percentage of fossil free electricity primarily nuclear generated. Until Australia produces more renewable power it is an exercise in virtue signalling for the ACT Government to pay more for green energy.....That's what I say.

Brian Hogan Brian Hogan 6:47 pm 30 Sep 19

Don't forget this is a labor/green government we are talking about.

Bradley Temperley Bradley Temperley 6:46 pm 30 Sep 19

Could you check the figures for PM10 emissions? I find it hard to believe that a diesel, an EV and a diesel hybrid would have almost the same production of particulate matter at 10 microns.

    Bill Gemmell Bill Gemmell 7:04 pm 30 Sep 19

    Bradley Temperley yeah that had me scratching my head as well

Paul Chubb Paul Chubb 6:42 pm 30 Sep 19

Early days. In the early 1900s the internal combustion engine struggled which is why so many horses and donkeys died due to WW1. Heavy haulage was big horses or steam. The tanks tended to regularly break down as did the trucks. They even tried small guage railways. Without persistence we wouldn't have had 100yrs of the ICE. Hydrogen vs electric is interesting. Currently electric seems to have the upper hand. It will be interesting to see which tech wins out. Bottom line is that the world is transitioning away from fossil fuels. Some places already have getting on for 50% electric, Australia won't have a different transport system.

    Paul Chubb Paul Chubb 9:00 pm 30 Sep 19

    Ian McLeod could well be or it could be another battery type. These issues will be solved or the tech will do something else. The key point is that whether the tech works perfectly now we must be on the journey or we will never arrive. Current issue is energy density in batteries. A while back the issue in hydrogen was transportation - high pressure and limited range. That seems to have been solved.

HiddenDragon HiddenDragon 6:41 pm 30 Sep 19

“Despite the failures of electric buses, Mr Steel said he believes the zero-emission buses that are now available far exceed the technology and build quality of those evaluated in the ACT trial.”

Rather than leaping in, with the usual “look at us, we’re leading the world (or at least the nation), aren’t we wonderful!” enthusiasm, perhaps the ACT Government could wait until this technology is truly proven through use – not just trials – in other jurisdictions involving conditions comparable to the ACT.

In the meantime, the money which is saved by not leasing/purchasing and making adaptations for equipment which is soon to be superseded, could be put towards more pressing issues – unmet need in health and housing/homelessness would be a good starting point.

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