Going green transport

Electric buses are coming

On Saturday I had my first brief ride in an electric bus.

First impressions:

To a passenger you’d struggle to immediately notice the difference. Internally it looks the same as a modern diesel bus.

The ride is similar, but no engine vibrations for instance while stationary.

Externally there are no fumes, and little noise. Apart from the signage the main distinguishing visible feature is the big orange bulge on the roof near the front – presumably part of the battery the aircon.

Transdev ran an electric bus for a couple of years. This was something they funded themselves, and when they lost the Melbourne contract, they moved this bus to Sydney.

The new crop of electric buses is part of new operator Kinetic’s contract, and the government has said that from 2025, all new public transport buses will be zero emissions – which means electric or some other technology such as hydrogen.

Electric bus in Williamstown Road
Electric bus. I need to get a better picture with a proper camera that doesn’t garble the destination display.

The nature of it is that you can’t just plonk lots of electric buses into existing depots than run a diesel fleet. Some work needs to be done first to install charging equipment. It may mean we see the electric buses initially take over in specific depots during the rollout – for instance, Seymour town buses are going all-electric.

We may also see electric buses more commonly used in urban areas, as the stop-start traffic is more efficient for them thanks to regenerative braking and battery capacity limitations. Possibly hydrogen will become more common on long distance rural routes.

Electric buses cost more to deploy, but the ongoing fuel and maintenance costs are reduced.

It’s great to see this happening. Right across Melbourne we need bus route reform and more frequent services. Even a diesel bus route is less carbon-intensive than everybody driving their own cars.

But replacing diesel buses with electric or hydrogen is also very welcome, and paves the way to a greener public transport network.

By Daniel Bowen

Transport blogger / campaigner and spokesperson for the Public Transport Users Association / professional geek.
Bunurong land, Melbourne, Australia.
Opinions on this blog are all mine.

16 replies on “Electric buses are coming”

yeah. I think I imagined it might be a bit smoother, but apart from the absence of engine vibration/noise, it really was similar.

A decade plus just to stop buying new ICE buses?
If anything, 2035 should be a target date to already be all-electric

One of the best things about the newer electric/hybrid buses is the reduced noise, particularly in local high streets when shopping. CDC has rolled out hybrid buses on the Route 630 along Martin Street in Brighton/Gardenvale, and there is a huge difference in the noise, both when the bus is waiting (timing + train connections) and when pulling away from the kerb. And no big diesel cloud either!

Its a noticable improvement in local amenity even if they run as diesel for the main roads and higher speeds.

It’s odd though to see some pure diesel buses being bought as late as this year. While I understand the electric charging infrastructure isn’t all there yet, surely it’s easier to transition to a hybrid-diesel buses for those depots that can’t get battery buses yet.

Also the sound of these buses remind me of the Wellington trolleybuses before the wires got ripped out. Hope to see more on our roads soon.

Is this the Swedish Volvo BZL chassis or the Chinese BYD? If the latter, it is basically the same bus as the one Transdev had. The bulge at the front of the roof is aircon. If it’s the BYD, the batteries are further back and under the back floor – an old fashioned design with a high floor at the back which is unnecessary in an electric bus. If it’s the Volvo, the batteries are on the back part of the roof and there’s only a high floor for the last two rows of seats. For a completely stepless electric bus like you find in Europe, try the locally designed and built Custom Denning Element, a demo of which went to Sunbury I think.

Naturally the ride (which depends on the condition of the road) is going to be the same as a diesel bus. However, the acceleration and deceleration should be smooth and jerk-free and of course its (dangerously) quiet on the outside. I find the BYD is almost as noisy as a diesel inside but some other brands are much quieter. That’s why I’m interested to know if its the Volvo and how you found it compared to the BYD (the one Transdev had).

Putting the battery and other equipments under floor lowers the gravititional centre, which makes the running more stable.

The “new” electric busses of melbourne still look the same as the old diesel busses. Should have got BYD to get the busses since those look modern and are much cheaper!

The ride depends on the suspension setup and how it responds to the weight of the bus. In a (much heavier) coach, the ride is great. In virtually all suburban buses the suspensions are reasonably comfortable when the bus is packed with passengers, but are atrocious when only a handful of people are on board (i.e a lot of the time on a lot of routes). Even running over painted rumble strips is painful, especially when combined with non-padded seats. Better suspension setup and lower tyre pressures would improve this.

Thanks Daniel. It’s a BYD like the Transdev one. Worth looking out for the Volvo and the Custom Denning, both identifiable by their fully low floors.

In reply to your frequency of services. A recent trip to Singapore highlighted the big gap in train and bus service frequency. Trains and buses every 3-5 minutes in Singapore. No need to ever look at a timetable. Just a dream here in Melbourne.

Early days locally.. but these types of busses are available off the shelf elsewhere in the world. Busses should have been regen hybrids years ago, like our trams, trains, and golf carts. It would be great to see a retrofit for the more modern diesel busses rather than eventually scrapping them. We’ll throw a way a lot of good chassis’, running gear, and interiors otherwise Would be a great local industry opportunity. Charing facilities is a big issue for fleet changeover. It will require dedicated local substations and new distributor connections for the depots as the current grid doesn’t support anything like the load needed.

Good to see electric buses slowly coming into the public transport fleet. I catch the bus to/from city and I always wondered whether the bus companies actually service their vehicles judging from the amount of black smoke coming out of some of the buses. During the peak when you have a few of them at the bus bays, the amount of fumes is just unbearable!

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