30 September 2019

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

| Lachlan Roberts
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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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Ashley Wright, can we have a link to that please, as I just did a quick google and hydrogen buses were still being rolled out in 2023. I didn’t find any mention of them being replaced. There were some routes with hydrogen buses closed due to low patronage. Is that what you are referring to?

So the EV option fails 35% of the time compared to diesel 1% of the time. And they will need almost twice as many units as diesels due to the shorter range.

My real concern is that EV religious fundamentalists will replace all
Emergency Services vehicles with EV ones & we will be the guinea pigs.

Capital Retro9:14 pm 13 Jan 24

Are Chis Steel and Chris Bowen related?

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

Capital Retro9:04 pm 04 Oct 19

About 9 years ago, Adelaide tried a “solar” electric powered bus service https://reneweconomy.com.au/adelaide-creates-worlds-first-solar-powered-public-transport-system-32530/

It was plagued by operational failures and as far as I can research it has disappeared without trace.

Brisbane did something similar and it failed miserably too..

Why is it that the ACT government won’t learn through the expensive mistakes of other virtue signalling administrations?

Scott Anthony6:11 pm 13 Jan 24

You might want to check the London E Bus fires (yes plural) and the French eBus fires (yes plural) and the Canadian eBus failure in the cold and the Chicago buss failures (too many hills)… but hey, there’s always an excuse for failure and extra millions wasted.

@Scott Anthony
Yeah, we can all use google and find a “statistic” to support our case:
https://www.news.com.au/technology/motoring/on-the-road/i-think-we-wouldve-died-passenger-unveils-grim-truth-about-westgate-bus-fire/news-story/68dfaea8636f12d15eba8ac5be0b23a7 … perhaps we should stop using diesel buses?

… and the London Fire Brigade has stated that they were still unaware of the precise cause of the latest e-bus fire. Perhaps you should call them and offer your ‘expert opinion’ on the subject?

Tell me, Scott – do you own a mobile phone? If so, how do you charge it? Obviously you don’t charge it at home – https://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/1741334/Charging-phone-bed-night-dangers-warning-house-fire-Essex … damn – google is good isn’t it?

Yes the technology is still evolving. So, dig up as much ‘dirt’ as you like, to lambast EVs and battery technology, but the one fact remains … non fossil fuel transport is the way of the future (just ask car manufacturers) and as the train departs, those of us who accept reality will be waving to you on the station platform.

Except JS, EV fires are so toxic. I’ve even provided a link from your Evangelist site with both cases – ICE/Lithium. EV fires – bad juju

Capital Retro9:15 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.

Scott Anthony6:12 pm 13 Jan 24

Solar can’t even come close to generating enough electricity to make this worthwhile. These busses are energy hungry beasts, thats why when they have a battery fire, its enormous and very spectacular. Solar just can’t make enough power to even alter the range by a tiny amount.

HiddenDragon6:41 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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