27 November 2022

The last of Canberra’s orange ACTION buses are about to disappear - will we miss them?

| James Coleman
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old Canberra buses

Old ACTION buses from the Canberra Transport Museum. Photo: Brock Ginman.

If you see Bus 974 on the roads around Canberra, chances are, Stephen Casey is at the wheel.

‘Gwendoline’ will be among 35 of the old orange and blue ACTION buses to retire at the end of this year when a wave of leased low-emission Scanias arrive. But while the Renault PR100.2 (badged Mack) buses are still here, this bus driver of five years will continue to go out of his way to drive them.

“I don’t think I’ve ever worked a split shift where I haven’t had one of the orange and blue buses rostered for at least one end of the day,” Stephen says.

“Some drivers hate them. And passengers don’t like them because they’re old. Maybe it’s an age thing, but I just like driving them. They feel safe and sturdy, and in a lot of ways, easier than the newer buses, because there’s less that can go wrong. For instance, if you have any issues with the doors, nine times out of 10 you can fix it yourself, as opposed to the newer buses where you have to call out a mechanic.”

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The thought of driving Canberra’s buses for a living first occured to Stephen when he left a career in the Navy behind and started work at the Woden Tradesman’s Union Club in 1988. The president of the club, a bus driver himself, urged him to join the team at the Australian Capital Territory Internal Omnibus Network, or ACTION.

Stephen and his wife went on to run a housecleaning business for the next two decades, at least until the joints began to complain and the thought returned to him.

“So I applied to Transport Canberra and by some stroke of good luck, I got through in 2017.”

Even today, many of the trainee bus drivers start in the old Renault buses, and Stephen was no exception. It was there he fell for them.

“But I didn’t tell anyone how much I liked them – remember the story of Brer Rabbit and the briar patch.”

The first Renault PR100.2 buses hit Canberra’s roads in 1992, equipped with 42 seats, electronic destination equipment and AM/FM radios. There were a total of 258, followed by 34 articulated (bendy) versions and then 42 of the next-generation PR100.3 models.

The blue, orange and arctic green colour scheme had been adopted in the early 1970s and remained as the ACTION colours through to 2004, when the brand was refreshed with bright green, white and orange to signify the move to easy-access, climate-controlled and lower emission fleet. (This then changed to blue, white and grey in 2017 to mark the ‘Transport Canberra’ rebrand.)

Transport Canberra says each one has travelled about 1.5 million kilometres over three decades of service. They’re now preparing to say goodbye to the survivors “as an important step in the ACT Government’s transition to zero-emissions public transport”.

“When the orange buses are retired, Transport Canberra will either recycle the scrap metal or sell them off to interested parties for private use,” a spokesperson says.

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Brock Ginman was one of those who bought an old ACTION bus. The 25-year-old self-confessed “bus enthusiast” has dreamed of a bus career ever since the trip to and from school in an old articulated bus.

“I would ride in the turntable section, when that was allowed,” he reminisces.

Not only is Brock a full-time driver nowadays, but he’s also treasurer for the Canberra Transport Museum.

This collection comprises 10 vehicles spanning 1981 to 1994, from Canberra as well as Queanbeyan and Sydney. They’re kept in a “friend’s backyard in rural NSW” until a permanent home and public display space can be found in Canberra.

“They’re not all roadworthy, but it’s very expensive to keep them all running all at once, but they’re generally in pretty good condition.”

Brock Ginman driving a bus

Brock Ginman. Photo: Transport Canberra.

Bus 967, or ‘Rexy’, was one of three Renaults to wear a special aqua-coloured livery depicting dinosaur bones, not to promote the National Dinosaur Museum – as some thought – but rather the slogan “Take ACTION [to] Conserve our fossil fuels”.

Rexy spent most of her life in the Belconnen depot, with some stints around Tuggeranong. She was removed from service on 4 May 2020, but put images of a future motorhome out of your head.

“I’m keeping it as it is, and just preserving it as a historical vehicle,” Brock says.

But it’s not a cheap hobby. Brock fills the 200-litre tank with diesel at the Costco service station in Majura Park, with a full tank coming in at nearly $500 nowadays. Fortunately, “a tank lasts a while”.

“Generally, I just take it out for a short trip once a month to keep it healthy, plus any other special events,” he says.

“The steering is a bit heavier than the new buses, but it’s an absolute delight to drive. A lot of the newer buses are really smooth and comfortable, but they’re very, very easy to drive and you can almost forget you’re driving a bus. This one feels like a real bus.”

It seems Canberra is at the end of an era.

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Matthew Discreet8:13 pm 09 Feb 24

This article was really ahead of its time.

Leon Arundell9:36 am 05 Dec 22

Compared with a modern diesel bus burning the same fuel, Renault PR100.2 buses emit more than 18 times the volume of hydrocarbons, 20 times the volume of nitrogen oxide and 36 times the volume of particulate matter. Source: https://www.transport.act.gov.au/planning-for-the-future/zero-emission-transition-plan-for-transport/transport-canberra

The first PR100.2 buses hit the road in 1987 not 1992. 1992 would have been when the MKII PR100.2’s would have been introduced.

Capital Retro9:33 pm 30 Nov 22

Today I saw an ACTION bus with “Climate Controlled” written on the side. Obviously, ACTION don’t have a “climate crisis” anymore.

By the way, it was a MAN bus. Isn’t this gender specific?

The government is renting non-electrics why? Diesel is fairly cheap?

The electric buses just aren’t up-to snuff.

Electric buses are charged at night with coal power, tend to break down or explode during the day and the government prefers to rent diesel.
However they expect to ban anything but electric.

I suggest that if your battery bus breaks down, it might be wise to wait outside the bus.

Capital Retro5:01 pm 29 Nov 22

Have they still got any of the French made IRIS buses? They were made in Annonay near Lyon (where the Montgolfier’s first made lighter than air balloons lift off). There is a great little bus museum near Annonay https://en.ardeche-guide.com/sites-to-visit/museums-sites/espace-joseph-besset-wheelwrighting-coachwork-museum-134321

The IRIS factory closed when France joined the EU and Scania buses took over.

Capital Retro9:30 pm 30 Nov 22

Thanks Paul. What a great resource that is.

Capital like usual you have your facts totally mixed up.

The factory at Annonay was part of Renault Vehicle Industries and predecessor companies. All the Renault chassis supplied to Perth and Canberra were built there with the bus bodies in Aus.

Irisbus was formed by a merger between the Renault Vehicle Industries bus division and FIAT (Iveco) and the factory was part of that deal. The Iris bus chassis sold in Australia Agora’s were an evolution of the Renault PR100 chassis.

Renault soon after sold their share in Irisbus which was then 10 years later rebranded back to Iveco however the factory remains in their hands to this day.

When Renault exited Irisbus they also sold their truck business to Volvo, not Scania however as stated the bus factory was not part of this sale.

So the factory is now owned by Iveco not Scania. And this had nothing what so ever to do with France joining the EU.

Also for the record 19 Iris buses remain in Canberra. 1 was written off after an engine fire in 2015.

JC – his info is from Dr Google – do NOT question it……….

Capital Retro10:48 am 05 Dec 22

Have you ever been to Annonay, JC?

Those old yellow buses have served Canberra well for 30 years. How many people have they carried. They have been amazing. In the middle of summer they just can’t cope. I have been in many that have broken down with the driver out the back trying to cool the engine down and the passengers swearing and cursing. Poor old things they deserve a rest. Yep it’s the end of an era!

Yellow? I’ve seen green and orange buses, but not yellow ones.

You will have to excuse Estelle. Based on other comments on this site, the filtering out of anything red seems to be permanently on.

Yes psycho I might need to go back to school and learn about colours and their differences. I am not sure what you are on about DJA you don’t make sense

Many of us see and interpret colours differently, although this is rare with primary colours. People argue about purple, pink, crimson and maroon, as well as about whether aqua is blue or green. I’m never sure whether I’m wrong, they’re wrong or there is no correct answer. I thought that perhaps there were yellow buses before I moved here from Sydney.

The old orange buses have no recirculated cooling, but if you have ever been on one of the newer buses when their aircon isn’t working properly, you might reconsider traveling on an orange bus! They are like an oven! Unlike the orange buses, there are no windows or roof vents to open. At least on an orange bus you can get air movement. (Heating on an orange bus is good).

The newer diesels they have meet European emission standards and while they aren’t electric, they are very clean in comparison to the old orange buses.

A friend who works as a bus refueler told me that Action had to limit it’s fleet of gas powered buses (remember when gas was considered green? ). The issue was that to expand the gas fleet would have put gas supply issues (during peak returning periods) into neighbouring Bonython at risk.

I do wonder about the infrastructure and energy resources required to power an electric fleet, particularly when the government is pushing everything else onto the grid.

It’ll be sad to see the orange buses go. Old and baggy, but good.

Wayne McCardell6:35 am 29 Nov 22

Grand old dames. I commuted in them for many years. In 2011, I learnt to drive in one. I then drove for ACTION for a year. I moved on and worked for two more NSW bus companies before retirement. Drove Volvo, Mercedes, MAN, Csepel, Cummins, Scania.

These old Renault/MACKs, Mk I and Mk II, had a feel like none of the others, in the drivers cabin and in the saloon. I recall they handled particularly well when fully loaded. I really liked them. Though I didn’t like the later Denning models, Mk III. Some of them were clunkers.

Canberra without orange busses would be like London without red double deckers.

Scott Anthony6:17 pm 28 Nov 22

France had two 4-year-old electric busses explode into flame earlier this year and took their whole fleet off the road for public safety till it was resolved, London also lost 6 busses to an electric fire, and the electric scooters in Fyshwick have had two major fires from recharging batteries and the massive toxic smoke these fires produce. When we get more electric vehicles on the road we’ll see more fires… Simply refuelling our busses with bio-diesel would give Canberra a net-zero emission fleet overnight at no real cost, much safer and longer lasting than these battery busses, especially when the first battery bus catches fire… according to overseas experience, it’ll happen in just a few years after they enter service. can’t wait to see the black toxic smoke greening the air we breath..

Hydrogen for heavy and long haul vehicles, farmers and a greener option for 4wd chuggers. Electric for city commuters. Batteries are on the cusp of change and demand will help speed that up.

I think Canberra commuters miss the 750 bus stops the government removed in 2019 more than they’ll miss the old orange buses that no longer stop near their house.

Leon Arundell8:58 am 28 Nov 22

Replacing these buses with electric buses would be good for the climate. They carried an average of only about eight passengers. They caused about the same emissions per person per trip as a car with a driver and no passengers.

Scott Anthony6:12 pm 28 Nov 22

It’ll do nothing for climate mate, France had two 4 year old busses explode into flame just months ago and took their entire fleet off the road, London also lost 6 busses to another EV battery fire belching toxic smoke into the environment and endangering lives. The mining and energy sunk into making these battery busses is not climate friendly, although they are locally friendly in terms of fumes, unless they’re on fire which is becoming more and more common, and will do so particularly as the batteries age. As an engineer the back end facts don’t support the clams of clean and green… now Hydrogen power… thats truly clean, as are bio-diesel busses, which we could have right now by simply refuelling them with clean fuel. Biodiesel is non toxic to boot… Electric vehicles are a fad that will pass sooner than you think mate..

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