24 February 2022

First electric buses on road this year, 90 more on the way

| Ian Bushnell
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Transport Minister Chris Steel, Transport Canberra driver Katrina McLachlan and mechanic Stuart Shiell with the Transport NSW Custom Denning Element electric bus

Transport Minister Chris Steel, Transport Canberra mechanic Stuart Shiell and driver Katrina McLachlan with the Transport NSW Custom Denning Element electric bus. Photos: Ian Bushnell.

Canberrans will be riding on electric buses by the end of the year after the ACT Government announced a leasing arrangement for 12 of the zero-emission vehicles.

Transport Minister Chris Steel also announced that the government has gone to market to acquire a further 90 electric buses, which should start arriving in 2023 and hopefully all be delivered by the end of 2024.

Mr Steel made the announcement in front of an Australian-made Custom Denning Element electric bus on loan from Transport NSW which, with its 450 km range, made the journey down the Hume Highway for the announcement.

Four like that will join the fleet this year, alongside eight Chinese-made Yutong buses leased from VDI Australia.

The ACT has already trialled a Yutong and found it suitable for Canberra conditions.

The government had planned to lease just eight buses this year but has extended the arrangement to the four Australian buses, which use solid-state batteries instead of lithium.

“We’ve got the best of both worlds,” Mr Steel said. “So we’ve got the latest innovation in solid-state battery technology from the Australian manufacturer Custom Denning.

“We’ve also partnered with Yutong, which is the world’s largest manufacturer of buses and which has delivered us a previous bus that we trialled in Canberra’s conditions on our networks. So we’re getting the buses that we need to help that transition go forward.”

The first 12 buses come with their own charging infrastructure and will be housed at the Tuggeranong and Belconnen Bus Depots.

“Our buses typically travel 300 to 350 kilometres per day and these will charge overnight at our depots in Tuggeranong and Belconnen for around 3.5 to 4 hours,” Mr Steel said.

“So we are really confident that they will meet the operational needs of Transport Canberra.”

They will start their service on the new Route 47 that runs from Belconnen via Whitlam to Denman Prospect but will eventually be used across the network.

The other 90 buses, which will be delivered in tranches, will be housed at the new electric bus depot at Woden and the other depots.

Mr Steel said feasibility studies were underway for a fourth electric depot on the northside and retrofitting the Belconnen and Tuggeranong depots with electric charging infrastructure.

Yutong bus

The Chinese Yutong bus that Transport Canberra successfully trialled. Eight will be delivered this year.

The delivery timeline will allow for the construction of the new Woden depot and the installation of infrastructure to support the running of the electric fleet.

Mr Steel said the government would be working closely with Evoenergy to ensure the electricity grid can support the charging of 102 buses.

But he said there are also opportunities for the bus batteries to help support the grid.

“These are large batteries that take energy from the network, but they also have the potential to give back to the network at times when it’s needed as well,” he said.

“So we’re working on all of those opportunities and the potential of co-location of our big batteries, which we’re currently exploring at the moment. So all of these things will work together to support a zero-emissions transition not only to transport but for the whole electricity grid.”

Transport Canberra mechanic Stuart Shiell said mechanics and drivers were both on a steep learning curve.

“It’s a different thing altogether for us. It’s just an exciting time,” he said.

Driver Katrina McLachlan said the electric buses gave a smooth, quiet ride.

“They take off nicely; they brake nicely,” she said.

The registration process to participate in the tender for 90 battery-electric buses is open until 8 March, with the Request for Proposal from suppliers who successfully register commencing soon after.

The government is also negotiating with Scania Australia for the short-term lease of 26 low-emission buses to immediately phase out the remaining 34 inaccessible and polluting Renault buses in the fleet this year. These will then be replaced with the purchase of electric buses.

The government is committed to converting the fleet to zero-emissions vehicles, including hydrogen buses, by 2040 or earlier.

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“The ACT has already trialled a Yutong and found it suitable for Canberra conditions.”
That’s not what I heard – I heard they typically couldn’t finish a shift.

“Mr Steel said feasibility studies were underway for a fourth electric depot on the northside and retrofitting the Belconnen and Tuggeranong depots with electric charging infrastructure.”
Is this to replace the gas refuelling infrastructure that was installed last year when Natural Gas was the solution according to the “settled-science”?

“The government is also negotiating … for the short-term lease of 26 low-emission buses to immediately phase out the remaining 34 inaccessible … Renault buses in the fleet this year.”
So, 26 new buses with reduced capacity (weight of batteries reduces load carrying capacity) to replace 34 buses – you couldn’t make this stuff up!
And what exactly is an “inaccessible” bus? A bus with no doors?!

The first one trialled was a disaster I understand.

The second set trialled (I think are the Yutongs) have been better, but haven’t seen anything detailed about performance.

I assume ‘inaccessible’ in this context relates to wheelchair person and disabled access. Very poor drafting, but I think largely understood by most what they mean.

Wow how to get things so wrong.

Firstly the leased buses to replace the Renaults are diesels identical to the last batch we have. The ones that have 1 of 40 new buses emblazoned over them. There is absolutely no reduction in capacity.

As for being inaccessible, I’m sure you are well aware of this and are just not picking but accessibility in term of public transport is in the context of people are are less able bodied. So wheelchairs people who have troubles with stairs etc. and whatda know stairs are what limits accessibility on the Renaults.

Secondly the Custom Denning Element which is the bus in the top picture (operates by Busways in Penrith) seats 47 which is actually more than the Renaults which seat 43. So no reduction in capacity.

Thirdly I don’t recall any natural gas refuelling facilities installed or upgraded in recent years. Tuggeranong is the only depot in Canberra capable of refuelling Natural Gas buses and that has been in use since 2004 and the last natural gas bus was commissioned in 2008. There may have been some upgrade in Tuggers that I’ve missed but if so it’s only to keep the existing fleet going.

As for the science Australia was a late adaptor of natural gas buses and by the time 2008 came around improvements to diesel technology in the form of Euro VI made that cleaner than natural gas. And now electric has matured to the point it is a viable alternative. Things change as science develops new. Or do you seem to think once we have something we should never improve it or adapt something new because what we have “works”?

“Or do you seem to think once we have something we should never improve it or adapt something new because what we have “works”?”
Absolutely not! I’m just saying it’s anti-science for anyone to claim that “science is settled” as long as people are still studying, investigating, experimenting, discovering and developing.
And gas upgrades “last year” was an exaggeration on my part – trying to point out the absurdity that it quite recently gas was touted as the solution, now it’s suddenly become the problem.

“Secondly the Custom Denning Element which is the bus in the top picture (operates by Busways in Penrith) seats 47 which is actually more than the Renaults which seat 43. So no reduction in capacity.”
The bus in the picture states it is licensed to seat 40, and carry 15 standing passengers – total of 55. I seem to remember the total capacity of the Mack/Renault was around 70 passengers .

“And gas upgrades “last year” was an exaggeration on my part – trying to point out the absurdity that it quite recently gas was touted as the solution, now it’s suddenly become the problem”

I don’t think exaggeration is the word that applies here. The word that applies here starts with an “l” I believe.

The point could have been made in a different way without having to make things up.

And the bus in the bottom picture is different to the bus in the top picture.

Tim the picture gang sure capacity is the youtong. The Custom Denning is at the top.

I quoted it seating capacity as that’s the only figure I shave, the source being the Busways Fleet list page on the Australian Bus Forum.

https://fleetlists.busaustralia.com/bus.php?search=BUS&depotreq=Penrith

And when you need to exaggerate to make a point then that point is not worth making. As I clearly stated Action has not brought a gas bus since 2008 and the reason being new methods of scrubbing emissions from diesel have made diesel cleaner than natural gas. Like usual Australia is so far behind the rest of the world mostly because of attitudes like the one you displayed.

We were very late adaptors of gas, we basically skipped hybrids, we were quick into Euro V and VI but that’s because Europe where all our bus chassis come from outlawed older versions and we are about 5 years behind on electric bus technology.

HiddenDragon7:14 pm 23 Feb 22

Amid all the swooning and excitement earlier this week about the takeover bid for AGL, and the related plan to close down all those wicked, satanic coal-fired power stations even earlier than forecast, the one big question not asked, or even remotely answered, was about the resultant need for vastly more power storage.

That might be because the answer to that question is very inconvenient, very expensive, and may even require the laws of physics to be magically re-written. To the extent that is so, putting more big batteries on wheels on our roads, and assuming that those batteries can be cheaply and reliably recharged in what has come to be seen as “off peak” times in the fossil fuel era, may be a very heroic assumption.

What laws of physics need to be ‘rewritten’ precisely?

Not doubting for one second the significant challenges associated with a grid transformation, and the need to find a different way to ensure grid stability, but I’m not sure where that goes from being a question of economics/investment/willingness to being a question of changing the laws of physics.

Maybe I’m missing something – so feel free to elaborate if I am!

JS9,
It’s almost like there are people researching and inplementing the solutions right now for the “problem” that Hidden Dragon raises.

In fact, it’s almost like it’s already included in the economic assessments showing how coal is becoming increasingly unviable and particularly so for anyone promoting the construction of new coal plants.

michael quirk4:09 pm 23 Feb 22

Electric buses are the future.Need to abandon the extravagance of light rail extension and replace with a BRT on its own right of way. Savings could be used to expand the coverage and frequency of the bus network.Also would avoid the disruption of light rail 2A. Arrogant government has failed to justify the extension of light rail.

Right in queue Michael. And I thought you thought autonomous cars were the future!

So more than likely the bulk of these buses will be built overseas (China) how “environmentally friendly” is that having to send them here via boat

Yes and no. As I mentioned in another thread the bulk of our buses now, diesel or electric have chassis that come from overseas and are bodied here. Increasingly we are seeing more imported bodies too.

There is at least one maker who builds bodies on their own chassis, with electrical systems from a French company (presumably built in china). There are also some body makers who have arrangements with Chinese companies to body Chinese chassis.

So what we get will for sure have foreign input, how much all depends.

And for what it’s with NSW place an order for the version that has the most Australian input, that could of be political after the recent anti foreign sentiment about their foreign train, tram and ferry purchases. The sentiment of course ignores the blessing obvious the fault with those orders is the NSW government specifications and requirements not the fact they are foreign built. I gather the NSW gov sees some political milage in ensuring buying “local” similar to what Victoria does. Not that the Custom Denning is a bad bus kind you.

If the buses typically drive 300-350km per day, a 450km battery range would appear adequate. It does however make you wonder what happens when the batteries start to deteriorate and the range reduces?

As for comfort, I’ve been a passenger on a Yutong bus. Acceleration at roundabouts etc was excellent. As for comfort; not so much. It was an uncomfortable ride and the interior of the bus looked more like what you’d expect if you were transporting cattle. It was very basic and unrefined.

Transport Canberra, please do NOT buy the Chinese made Yutong buses.
Buy Australian made buses PLEASE. We need the jobs and industry in this country!

Buying a is (to an extent) not like buying a car. The buyer can and does specify the interior fit out including seats, hand rails, floor, walls, lighting etc.

That said there are some fairly decent manufacturers in Australia. Or should I say body builders, because for the most part most bus chassis are imported and have local bodies put on them.

When it comes to electric buses think only the Custom Denning uses an Australian made chassis, though the electronics come from a French company, presumably made in China.

Anyway you get the idea.

Is that range based on a full passenger load and going up hills?

Range factors in average loads. As for going up hills, what goes up must comes down. When a battery bus comes down, just like a hybrid car the motors turn into generators which then recharges the batteries. So hills are no impediment.

Is that range on the highway, or in the city?
Yes, hills are an impediment because batteries don’t charge 100% efficiently.

It’s in a city (which BTW with stop start driving would give greater range than cruising on an open highway. And yes you are right regenerative braking is not 100% effective in the context of using x watts to go up a hill you won’t generate x going down. But that’s not the point. Any opportunity to charge through regenerative braking helps the overall range.

And not sure your issue to be honest. Electric buses operate in Sydney right now, they also operate in London in numbers that are bigger than the entire Action bus fleet including double deckers and in dozens of other cities. Like most things new Australia is a very late adopter.

When it comes to these buses range is not an issue what so ever. The biggest issue here and elsewhere is getting the power to depots to charge when the buses are off shift.

If the Greens introduce electric busses to save the planet why do they want to continue with the Rattenberry Railway to Woden. From public opinion these seems to be few Canberrans who want the train to Woden. Cost benefit of train V cost benefit of electric busses. Give Canberrans the choice as they are paying for either or both.

Hard to say if there are few that want it. There are a few that bleat here and in the Canberra times (yes looking at you Penleigh Boyd) but hard to say if they represent the minority of the majority.

As for the basics of your question, light rail takes electric one step further. Electric trams with steel wheels on tram are more efficient than an electric bus with rubber tyres on road. They also carry more and you need less of them to do the same job. So there are advantages. Weather those advantages are worth it is a matter of debate of course.

Oh and Penleigh if by chance you read this forum I’ve got some news for you. If you consider trams to be 19th century tech that have no place in 2021 and electric cars the future, please consider the first electric car was built the 1880’s. So by your own argument electric cars are 19th century tech too.

Now of course electric cars are nothing like they were in the 1880’s by the same token modern day tram/light rail is nothin like the 19th century version either.

PS. It is of course now 2022!

Charged by coal at night.

Capital Retro1:17 pm 23 Feb 22

That’s 100% renewable coal, too!

Capital Retro1:24 pm 23 Feb 22

Have you read that? More spin that a bird-blending wind turbine.

Actually, they are claiming there are two solar “farms” at Royalla. Do they ever proof read the crap they write?

“The ACT’s electricity is sourced via a range of renewable electricity generators, such as solar and wind. These generators come in different scales depending on how much energy they can produce. For instance, local large-scale generators include Mugga Lane Solar Park, Royalla Solar Farm, Williamsdale Solar Farm and Royalla Solar Farm.”

Edward Seychelles6:18 am 24 Feb 22

Even if charged with electricity produced by fossil fuels, it there is still less GHG emissions and the added bonus of removing air pollution from our city.

Could be powered by coal, could also be powered by hydro or wind.

In fact something many don’t know is at night excess coal power is used to pump hydro water back up the hill to be used again the next day.

Government of course is expanding this function with Snowy 2.

Capital Retro11:34 am 24 Feb 22

Air pollution in Canberra is trapped in by an inversion layer.

Maybe you should let them know rather than whinge. It is clear as day it is a typo and poor proof reading.

There is an email address at the end of the page.

Anyone else get the feeling the Transport Minister is more focused on implementing emissions reduction than implementing an improved bus service for commuters.

> use solid-state batteries instead of lithium.

Hate to break it to you, but the batteries they use are LMP – lithium metal polymer (which, yes, are solid state, like most batteries, but very definitely contain lithium).

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