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Victorian electric bus trial set to revolutionise regional towns

In the Victorian towns of Sandy Point and Venus Bay, an exciting electric mini-bus trial is set to pave the way for sustainable small-town transport

There are many idyllic Australian towns that lie on the edge of the country, hugging the coastline and creating the perfect beach community. In some of these towns in Gippsland, Victoria, their only downside is that there’s only one road in and out, making transport limited.

“There’s no transport in communities like Sandy Point and Venus Bay,” Venus Bay Community Centre General Manager Alyson Skinner told ABC.

“There’s no V/Line trains and the occasional very expensive taxi to get to the nearest town, so people are geographically and socially isolated.”

To combat this logistical challenge, the Venus Bay Community Centre looked into a new community driven approach to local transport. The end result is an innovative community-run electric bus trial that is setting the standard for sustainable small-town transport.

For two years, two electric mini-buses will run in both Sandy Point and Venus Bay to provide a much-needed transport option. The project is part of a collaboration between the two communities, the iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre, the Victorian government and La Trobe University.

In Venus Bay, Skinner says the electric bus trial is the culmination of a wider community energy project to make the Gippsland town more sustainable.

“We’ve done a fair bit of work here to make this town a centre of resilience with significant solar panels and battery back-up generators,” Skinner says.

Image: Venus Bay Community Centre/iMOVE

“There was a chance a few years ago to look at how Gippsland communities could integrate energy projects with transport, and that’s how the electric bus trial came to be.”

The Gippsland approach saw the likes of Mallacoota, Phillip Island, Heyfield, Venus Bay and Sandy Point all look into how low or zero-emissions vehicles could improve local sustainable transport. Its partnership network quickly began researching how electric buses may address key transport gaps in Venus Bay and Sandy Point.

Over half a year, the proposal was developed, with the Victorian Department of Transport supporting the project by funding the two electric mini-buses, which both come with wheelchair hoists.

“It’s a two-year pilot project for the two communities, with volunteers in both towns helping run the initial trials as part of the wider two-year project,” Skinner says.

The two electric mini-buses, named Sandy and Sunny, were officially launched at the Community Energy Congress Regional Hub in Leongatha, with services to be initially free and run by the Venus Bay Community Centre and the Sandy Point Bus Management Committee. Throughout the trial, La Trobe University and the iMOVE Cooperative Research Centre will combine to capture data and lessons.

While Skinner is expecting teething issues that will be ironed out, she’s proud of her community for being a pioneer in small-town electric transport. The end goal is for Sandy and Sunny to be the landmark trial that motivates other Australian small towns to turn to electric buses for a sustainable transport future.

“We want to drive a behaviour change from jumping in the car to instead waiting for a more environmentally friendly vehicle, like a bus,” Skinner says.

“This looks at how we can combine resources as a community – the end goal is to provide local employment.

“We hope this is going to be a roadmap for other communities. Hopefully other towns can learn from the challenges and lessons we face throughout the process and can find out how electric buses can help regional communities.”

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