Australia, Bus Industry News, Charging Infrastructure, Technology

Savvy weighs in on the future of electric buses in Australia

Vehicle loan, insurance and financing company Savvy details the current state of play in the zero-emissions bus infrastructure space and what can be done to accelerate the transition

If you’re a regular bus user in Australia, you may have noticed that there may be an electric bus driving your route – but those are a rarity on Australian roads at the moment.

According to the Australia Institute, only 200 out of 100,000 buses are electric – that means only 0.2 per cent of our total bus fleet (as of 2023).

Contrast this with electric vehicles (EVs), where about 18 per cent of all vehicles sold in Australia over 2023 was some form of EV, and there are currently 72,685 battery EVs and 362,403 hybrid and plug-in hybrids registered out of 19.3 million registered vehicles.

Bus fleet electrification is a major step towards reducing carbon emissions and the government’s goal of a net zero pollution reduction by 2050. The Institute estimates that the global fleet of electric buses must expand to at least eight million to achieve this goal.

What is the future of electric buses in Australia? Why should we make the transition easier and cheaper?

Why electric buses?

Electric buses operate in every major metropolitan and regional centre in Australia. During 2019-20, road vehicles contributed 85 per cent of transport carbon emissions; as buses pollute at much higher levels than passenger vehicles, this would actively help reduce those emissions. As electric vehicles have few moving parts and no ‘engine’ to speak of, they operate at far lower noise levels than petrol or diesel buses. They also reduce demand for petrol/gas/diesel and require less maintenance, which could make public transport via bus cheaper for consumers.

The state of infrastructure

Moving toward electric buses means investing in charging infrastructure, data analysis and, of course, the buses themselves. Existing depots can be retrofitted to accommodate electric buses, though the biggest challenge is how operators use the existing space and whether their location can handle the increased electricity demands.

A Perth depot installed a high-voltage EV charging system using grid power and a 100kW solar panel array, connected to an on-site battery storage facility. Other states have opted for hybrid buses, such as South Australia, which operates 24 hybrids in the Metro network.

The Western Australian government will invest $125 million in electric buses including building 130 locally made buses and disbursements for electrifying depots. Queensland has announced a similar zero-emissions bus program, also designed to meet the demands for public transportation ahead of the 2032 Olympic Games.

Victoria has mandated all new buses from 2025 must be zero-emissions and aims to replace its 4,000 diesel buses. A new electric vehicle laboratory in the Docklands will also help train technicians to work on this new fleet of electric buses.

Expanding the fleet

The largest challenge for Australia is that it already has a large fleet of buses that need to be electrified, which means older buses will be retired. At present there are about 80,000 buses in both the public and private sector that will be part of that transition.

The top-tier Chinese city of Shenzhen, which has a population of 17.5 million, has electrified their entire 16,359 bus fleet in recent years. New South Wales, with a population of only 5.1 million by comparison, have opened one depot with 55 electric buses. NSW currently fields a fleet of over 8,000 buses powered by diesel or natural gas.

Unlike the private EV sector, electric buses have near-parity in pricing with diesel or natural gas variants. However, government mandates on minimum amounts of local content in the manufacturing process are limiting how many buses can be produced here or imported from overseas– or some blend of chassis or battery manufacturing and importation.

Financing the future of buses

Financing the future of electric buses has become easier thanks to EV infrastructure funds that aim to provide capital for electric bus take-up as well as charging infrastructure. Loans for zero-emissions vehicles may also come with lower interest rates to incentivise the purchase of electric buses.

Commercial vehicle finance brokers can tailor solutions and find loan facilities to suit a private tour or hire transport operator to transition to all-electric fleets and depots. Companies can unlock savings in reduced fuel and maintenance costs – the latter of which may be as high as 70 per cent.

It all helps to reach our collective goal of net zero by 2050.

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