12 April 2024

'Propaganda signage' and 'ghost buses': Accusations fly over whereabouts of '106' electric buses

| Claire Fenwicke
Join the conversation
Custom Denning 'Element' low-floor battery electric bus (BEB)

The Canberra Liberals feel the signage on electric buses in the ACT is misleading about the size of our zero-emission fleet. Photo: Ian Bushnell.

Tempers have flared as the ACT Government has been accused of spreading a “false message” and “blatant lie” through signage on its electric buses.

Shadow Transport Minister Mark Parton accused the government of misleading the public by wrapping electric buses with the message: “One of 106 zero emission electric buses”.

The Zero Emissions Transition Plan was released in September 2020, and on 31 May 2023, the government announced it would increase the bus fleet to 106 zero-emission buses over the next three years and had secured 90 buses to do so.

As of 8 April, there were 12 battery electric buses on Canberra’s road.

Mr Parton said the signage was a “blatant lie” and “false message” that was confusing Canberrans.

“There are not 106 buses of the electric variety in Canberra,” he said.

“Most sensible people would arrive at the conclusion that the message being transmitted is that this bus, right here, is one of 106 in our fleet.

“The claim is false. It is false and it should be removed.”

He accused the government of “dropping the ball” on modernising the bus fleet because its focus was light rail and that supply issues could no longer be used as an excuse.

Mr Parton also pointed to the absence of four Custom Denning battery electric buses, announced last October, from our roads.

“Nobody’s seen them. They’ve been gone for six months,” he said.

“We call them ghost buses … how about coming clean with us and telling us what the problem is?

“We call upon the government to get serious about its own electrification targets and to stop running buses with propaganda signage, which is untrue.”

READ ALSO Liberals’ bus plan: good ideas but not a long-term strategy, says public transport lobby

Acting Transport Minister Tara Cheyne didn’t hold back on what she thought of the Canberra Liberals’ motion in the Legislative Assembly.

“This motion is a stunt,” she said.

She pointed to Transport Minister Chris Steel’s previous explanation of delays to electric buses and supply chain issues and insisted no promises had been broken.

“[The signage] doesn’t say, ‘I’m on the road’, it says ‘I’m one of 106 electric buses’,” Ms Cheyne said.

“The 106 buses is still a commitment, that hasn’t changed. Yes, the delivery [timeframe] has changed – that is frustrating, we’re all frustrated – but it doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do it.

“There’s nothing that’s misleading.”

Ms Cheyne said 106 buses had been “secured” and “procured”.

As for the Custom Denning buses, she explained that it had taken four months from signing the contract with the Australian company to delivery, a marked improvement on the wait times experienced by those buses ordered from overseas.

However, when they underwent acceptance testing, issues were found.

“While all of our expectations were that they would successfully complete the acceptance testing regime and be commissioned to enter operation soon after, there were identified technical specification issues,” Ms Cheyne said.

“They meant that all vehicles were required to be returned to Custom for some remediation.

“Until they do meet our standards, we’re not going to put them on the road. We’re not going to compromise safety and passenger comfort or service frequency just so that Mr Parton doesn’t call them ‘ghost buses’.”

It’s understood the four buses are now back with Transport Canberra for re-inspection.

READ ALSO Eden’s cruise ship season busiest on record, with port expansion on the cards

ACT Greens transport spokesperson Jo Clay expressed her party’s disappointment that more electric buses weren’t being put on the road as quickly as promised.

“I want to put on the record that we have not met targets set for the number of electric buses on the road,” she said.

“It’s true and we want to make sure that we are telling history as it is.”

Failed targets from the 2020 plan included having the Woden Bus Depot complete and operational by the end of 2022 and having at least 65 electric buses on the road by the end of this financial year.

“We’ve seen less than 20 per cent of the electric buses committed in September 2020 delivered on time to date,” Ms Clay said.

“There are good reasons why these deadlines weren’t met, but the ambitions of 2020 have been significantly scaled back.

“[We] want to put more money towards progressing public transport infrastructure and procurement so that we can get these things done faster.”

Join the conversation

All Comments
  • All Comments
  • Website Comments
Martin Keast9:19 am 13 Apr 24

I am interested to know how well these buses actually work. Overseas experience seems to suggest that they don’t handle cold well, charging takes a long time (meaning more buses are needed to keep up with the schedules), plus there is the ever-present danger of one of them spontaneously combusting which could have a domino effect if closely parked at the depot.

Capital Retro8:53 am 16 Apr 24

I can hear only the crickets………….

Capital Retro, why do you imagine every thoughtless comment deserves someone’s time to correct it?

🚌 are coming, 🚌 are coming! Just not in time for the critical propaganda period

What a storm in a tea cup over a bit of ambiguous advertising. Electric or diesel, they are still just buses from a user standpoint. The critical aspect is, are they EXTRA buses for improved services or just replacements of existing ones, So far, the latter.

William Newby8:48 pm 11 Apr 24

An extremely rare occasion for Cheney not to take a question on answer.
Empty busses drive past our house all day long, I don’t recall seeing any of the new electric models, our public transport system is a complete sham!
Labor hiding the results from the CIT investigation until after this years election disgusts me!
Three decades of complacency!
Vote for ANYONE else this October!

GrumpyGrandpa8:02 pm 11 Apr 24

Ms Cheyne said 106 buses had been “secured” and “procured”.

Sounds a bit like the 2016 election promise to duplicate Athllon Drive.

Remember all those brochures we got in our letterboxes and the promotion of “More Buses, More Often”.

That promise was certainly never delivered on.

That wasn’t a lie. There were more buses and they do come more often. Just in some locations clearly not where you life considering the number of times you complain about it. But actual facts on terms of number of buses in the fleet, how many services they operate and how often they come show the true story.

That was tried a couple of decades ago with Dennis Darts. Not a success. Complications with scheduling only off peak, more empty positioning running, durability of smaller vehicles, and issues arising with sudden passenger surges. The reality is the net difference in vehicle operating costs actually experienced was negligible. Others have found this out too. (Urban rail in Sydney found dividing trains in half off peak caused more trouble than any advantage theoretically on offer.)

Mix up – reply was re Steve foster comment

Not true JC. Don’t forget they didn’t live up to their original promise and provide local buses every 30 minutes 7 days a week and Rapid buses at least every 15 minutes.

You were the one loving the 2019 new bus network that even government MLA’s now admit had its flaws and didn’t live up to expectations.

Jo Clay proved there’s less buses now than many years ago.

If course it’s propaganda. Though for me the issue is every bus has the same signage 1 of 106 buses. It should really say One of 106 buses and to satisfy Mark Parton it should have small print and say buses on order.

Not the first time similar (and incorrect) signage has been out in Canberra buses.

Though speaking of propaganda the liberals alternative transport policy has buses being made in the ACT (which company will do this is to be seen, for such a small market most likely no one) but anyway the bus image they were showing also included propaganda about being made in the ACT similar to what is common on new Melbourne trains and trams and also used in other states. Never mind even if built in the ACT the bulk of the commented will 100% be foreign built.

Capital Retro5:27 pm 11 Apr 24

Aren’t these the same ones that Canberra is getting? I hope they have the fire suppression system in them, same as one in Sydney were ordered with.

Daily Digest

Want the best Canberra news delivered daily? Every day we package the most popular Riotact stories and send them straight to your inbox. Sign-up now for trusted local news that will never be behind a paywall.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.