Australia’s next stop: green bus revolution

Have you heard about the latest affordable electric vehicle technology? It is cutting pollution, noise and congestion while also being capable of jump-starting new auto-manufacturing jobs here in Australia. It’s the electric bus. As 2018 begins, a new national discussion around electric cars, the unsung heroes of the zero pollution transport, is under way. Renewable-powered electric buses are about to rollout, setting in motion a transport revolution on the streets of Australian towns and cities.

Let’s face it, not everyone can afford a Tesla (just yet). For many, the humble city bus transports people who can’t drive or prefer not to – children, the elderly, workers, people on low incomes, those with disabilities (and the climate conscious). Buses today tend to be outdated and noisy, belching diesel exhaust over bike riders and homes along busy city bus routes. Electric vehicle technology can transform these stalwarts of the public transport system into modern, quiet, zero pollution people movers.

In fact, the rest of the world is already way ahead of us. China is leading the global rollout of electric buses, with more than 300,000 on the road at the end of 2017. The Chinese city of Shenzen (population 11.9 million) has set the bar high, switching its entire 16,000-strong bus fleet to electric. Major global cities are following suit, including Paris, Los Angeles, London, Copenhagen, Barcelona, Vancouver, Milan, Auckland and Cape Town – they have all pledged their bus fleets to go fully electric. Even the world’s most iconic bus, the London double-decker, boasts an electric version. As global uptake accelerates, battery powered bus costs are coming down. Electric buses are increasingly cost competitive due to lower maintenance costs, and electric charging being cheaper than diesel refueling.

Crucially, for tackling climate change, battery powered buses can be recharged with renewable energy. Predictable bus routes allow for scheduled charging; with 100 per cent GreenPower from grid, or directly from solar panelled depots. In 2013, Adelaide led the way as the first city to introduce a solar-charged bus operating on the city’s free connector service. Canberra, a city on track for 100 per cent renewable energy by 2020, is trialling electric buses, and is ultimately planning to transition its ageing bus fleet. While Flinders University is trialling an autonomous solar-powered electric bus to shuttle students from its nearby train station.

On top of the benefits of less pollution and quieter, cleaner streets, manufacturing electric buses has potential to create jobs of the future. Electric buses offer new hope to Australia’s dwindling automotive manufacturing sector, as companies turn the key on new electric bus manufacturing plants in northern Adelaide, South Australia and Avalon, Victoria. These new manufacturing facilities are tapping into existing supply chains and highly skilled workforce, creating hundreds of jobs. In July last year, the first Australian designed, engineered and manufactured electric bus rolled off the production line and onto the streets becoming part of Adelaide’s public transport network.

Electric buses are one vehicle in a fleet of solutions needed to tackle Australia’s rising transport pollution. A trickle of electric buses is already hitting the streets in capital cities across the country. Policies, incentives and purchasing decisions can turn this into a flood. The electric bus revolution is coming. It’s time for public transport operators, state and local governments to get on board.

Petra Stock is a climate and energy solutions analyst with the Climate Council.