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New Yutong coach introduces a splash of green to Tropic Wings

Tropic Wings Cairns Tours & Charters is no stranger to running green tours. It’s now taking this to a whole new meaning with a major order of Yutong electric buses in Far North Queensland

In the tropical region of Far North Queensland, there’s plenty of green for the eye to see. In and around the Daintree Rainforest, thick, vibrant leaves radiate various shades of green. Along the Daintree River, in between the ancient crocodiles, islands of mangroves interweave.

Harking back to 2019, this green landscape has had an addition in the form of a Yutong electric E12 bus winding up and down the Macalister Range from Cairns to Kuranda. The bus, operated by Tropic Wings Cairns Charters and Tours, is making Australian charter and touring history. The operator is only getting started with its electric focus.

“We’ve been an advance eco-accredited company for around 25 years for our tours that visit World Heritage Listed areas,” Tropic Wings general manager Colin Anderson told ABC.

“We were the first tour and charter operator to introduce an electric bus to a tourist day-tour on the Cairns to Kuranda tour.”

After decades of operating, the introduction of the Yutong E12 was a seminal moment for Tropic Wings. In 1981, Charles and Pip Woodward owned a tourist attraction in Kuranda and couldn’t get anybody to the site on Sundays due to a lack of buses running. To fix the problem, they bought their own bus under the umbrella of Blue Wing Coach Tours.

A year later, due to the high demand, the Woodwards acquired Cairns Tropic Tours. In 1983, the two brands were combined to form Tropic Wings Cairns Tours & Charters. Starting with four buses, the operator now has nearly 40 in its fleet.

“We offer three different areas of service, starting with our scheduled school services for both public and private schools,” Anderson says.

“We also have a large charter side, mainly in tourism, but also through school transfers and services for sporting, community and convention events. The third part is our touring business, which runs tours from Cairns to the likes of Port Douglas, Mosman, Cape Tribulation and Kuranda.”

Anderson says the introduction of the Yutong E12 electric model in 2019 has been seamless and successful. The low-floor bus was initially evaluated, with Tropic Wings able to collect enough data in and around the COVID-19 pandemic to determine that the electric model was working for the operator.

Once Tropic Wings worked out that electric vehicles could work in Far North Queensland and they had a receptive market in the region, it looked to find ways to further its sustainability targets. Anderson and his team soon brought in a goal of making 80 per cent of the Tropic Wings fleet electric by 2030, with the remaining 20 per cent to remain as diesel due to the range limitations and lack of charging infrastructure in wider Queensland.

To meet this ambitious goal, Tropic Wings decided to begin an electric bus project like no other.

“We came up with an idea to welcome another 12 electric buses into our fleet to run more zero-emissions services,” Anderson says.

“We know there are a number of risks involved and there’s a lot of infrastructure that needs to be created, but we knew from our experience with the first E12 that we could do it.”

To get the project underway, Tropic Wings established a network involving various partners. Once again, the connection of the operator to Vehicle Dealers International (VDI), the Australian distributor of Yutong buses and coaches, came in handy, with a suite of Yutong electric vehicles ordered.

Tropic Wings then also turned to the Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) to help fund the new electric bus operations. The $10.2 million project will be split between ARENA and Tropic Wings, with the former contributing $4.75 million.

“The funding took the risk out of it for us and helped us ensure we had enough infrastructure in place through partnerships with the likes of Energy Australia,” Anderson says.

“We’ve seen the first of the 12 electric buses arrive, and this month we’ve begun installing the required electrical infrastructure.”

The Yutong models involved in the new electric bus order are the C12E and the D7E. Both electric models, the C12E comes in a coach configuration for Tropic Wings, providing all of the benefits of an electric bus but with bin space underneath for luggage. When passengers board, they’ll be greeted by 53 reclining leather seats, curtains, lights and USB ports on every seat.

Image: VDI Australia

The D7E, the electrified version of the popular D7 model, will form the smaller and more nimble part of Tropic Wings’ new fleet, helping run day tours through Far North Queensland’s premier tourist attractions.

“From the passenger’s point of view, the electric bus’ interior is designed so seamlessly that they may not even notice any differences compared to a standard diesel bus unless they spot the signage indicating its electric nature,” Anderson says.

“When you’re behind the wheel, it’s an absolute pleasure to drive.”

From the VDI/Yutong side, National Sales and Marketing Manager Sara Clark says Cairns and Far North Queensland is a special place for the brand, serving as the birthplace of VDI’s partnership with Yutong in Australia.

“The much-anticipated C12E and D7E buses were delivered in the wake of Cyclone Jasper and the feedback has been extremely positive,” Clark told ABC.

“The driver and passenger comfort and enhanced safety features, as well as energy consumption capabilities, allow Yutong electric buses to give back to the region where it all began in a sustainable way.”

These vehicles will be ably supported by a unique battery charging network. Tropic Wings will install a battery electric storage system, or BESS, at its depot that will harvest solar during the day so that the Far North Queensland operator can continue to have enough power to keep the depot and buses running for two days in the case of a severe weather event.

Although it’s a seminal moment for both Yutong/VDI and Tropic Wings, it’s only the beginning. When the current project is done by the middle of this year, Anderson and the Tropic Wings team will continue updating the fleet with the latest sustainable bus technology from Yutong.

“We’re aiming for a continual rollout of electric buses in our fleet,” Anderson says.

“It’s so exciting to have these shiny new toys to play with. As part of this project, we’re also sharing our knowledge, in conjunction with the Electric Vehicle Council.

“We’ll be sharing our experiences and learnings with the wider bus community so that the industry is better for it.”

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