A new report has found Australia remains a laggard when it comes to electrifying the nation’s bus fleet – despite grand promises from a variety of state governments – with just 200 out of 100,000 busses being electric.
The report published on Wednesday by The Australia Institute says that electric buses are commercially available, economically viable, and popular with commuters, and have multiple advantages over diesel-fuelled buses, including reduced CO2 emissions, noise, and air pollution.
“Despite this, just 0.2% of Australia’s bus fleet is electric,” the report says. “Most of this fleet is owned by state governments. Their failure to act on electrification suggests their commitments to net zero emissions are more symbol than substance.”
As part of the study The Australia Institute also conduct a survey which found that 71% of Victorians support a zero-emission bus fleet by 2030.
The report finds that electric busses can significantly reduce:
- Carbon emissions
- Noise pollution
- Road congestion
- Air pollution
- Fuel and maintenance costs
Electric bus makers are keen to scale but not receiving any orders
Nexport is an Australian owned and operated electric bus manufacturer based in Sydney, but chief commercial officer Dan Porter says the company is being frustrated by delays in the government’s planned conversion to an electric bus fleet.
“There are nearly 80 electric city buses now in operation around New South Wales and Queensland,” Porter says. “The majority of them running out of transit systems in Leichhardt. Those buses have done over 6 million kilometers now in active service. So it’s not a trial. It’s not a new technology. They are a fundamental part of the transport infrastructure.”
“Four years ago we made the decision that we would stop building any diesel buses and the last diesel buses we built were at the start of last year. So we became purely electric. We had relied on and assumed that the government would have rolled out at the speed they said they would. They haven’t.
“They’ve gone through a process of re-evaluating their business cases and extended from 2030 something to 2040 something now.”
Transport policy has a huge impact on public health
The TAI report comes after a number of recent studies have shown that the air and noise pollution that comes from petrol and diesel powered transport is having massive negative health impacts on people who live in cities.
More and more studies are showing the terrible health impacts of diesel particulate pollution on our society.
A world-first study published in February showed that exposure to diesel exhaust pollution can dull human brains within hours.
Another study published last month showed that in addition to 12,000 cardiovascular hospitalisations, 66,000 active asthma cases, and almost 7,000 respiratory hospitalisations, petrol and diesel exhaust pollution could cause more than 11,000 premature deaths per year in Australia.
That’s about ten times more deaths than road accidents cause in Australia each year.
And it’s not just air pollution, another study of 240,000 people recently linked traffic noise to elevated hypertension and cardiovascular disease.
Calls for stronger targets to electrify Australia’s bus fleet
TAI research director Rod Campbell says Australia needs stronger targets and better funding to meet its goals.
“Electrifying bus fleets is an easy first step that state governments can take toward achieving their net zero goals,” said Campbell.
“Because the majority of the some 100,000 buses in Australia are publicly owned or funded, the pace and scale of transition can be accelerated dramatically by State Governments, should they wish.
“Cities with bus fleets significantly larger than those in Australian have been able to achieve full electrification, including in China’s Shenzhen which has a fully electrified 16,359-strong bus fleet.”
The report notes that no Australian state or territory is currently making rapid progress towards the electrification of their bus fleet. The commitment that New South Wales made in 2020 to 100% electric buses by 2030 has already been wound back to “net zero” buses by 2035.
“As of December 2022, 101 electric buses are operating in the state, with a total of 200 promised by mid-2023. Elsewhere, the ACT aims to be 100% electric by 2040,” the report says.
“Victoria has 41 electric buses on the road, but no transition target other than a policy for buses purchased from 2025 onwards to be electric. Queensland has a similar 2025 purchase goal for the southeast of the state, and currently operates a handful of electric buses.”
“The South Australian government proclaimed in September 2022 that it had taken delivery of its last diesel bus, but did not commit fully to electric buses, instead announcing that “from now on it’s either hybrid or electric”, with the latter ‘contingent on funding and fleet arrangements’,” the report notes.
What’s the hold up?
The report claims that the ABS estimates that the total annual fuel consumption of diesel buses in Australia is 534.8 million litres.
“Burning one litre of diesel produces around 2.7kg of CO2, which means that diesel buses produce about 1.4 million tonnes of CO2 annually—roughly equivalent to the entire Australian Capital Territory’s carbon emissions in 2020-21.” notes the report.
The Bus Industry Confederation says that the average bus in Australia travels 24,600 km per year and that the average cost for metro/outer bus operators in Australia for 2017 was $4.58 per service kilometre.
Based on a national fleet of 100,000 busses this equates to 2.4 billion km each year meaning the costs to run Australia’s busses comes to around $11 billion annually, which is largely made up of diesel costs.
Fuel companies with powerful lobby groups supplying Australia’s 100,000 busses obviously have a lot to lose if Australia transitions to fully electric transportation.
If electric busses are commercially available, economically viable, and 71% of Australians want them, why aren’t state governments getting on with it?
Daniel Bleakley is a clean technology researcher and advocate with a background in engineering and business. He has a strong interest in electric vehicles, renewable energy, manufacturing and public policy.