From the north-eastern tropics to the baking heat of the west, electric buses are steadily spreading around Australia. In the past few years alone, the uptake of zero-emissions buses and coaches have seen more and more operators trialling the new vehicle technology.
In July, a Yutong electric bus began an audacious trial in a unique spot as it landed at Victoria’s most popular winter resort, Mt Buller.
At Mt Buller, Busfleet Australia sought to do something different to meet carbon emissions targets during the snow season. With the weather cooling down and Victorians once again beginning to pack up their skis and boards for the trip up to the mountain, Busfleet Australia made a bold decision to potentially start a reinvigoration of its 45-bus fleet.
“To meet our carbon output requirements this season, we began thinking what we could do to lower emissions,” Busfleet Australia director Neil Geddes told ABC.
“We thought about replacing some buses with newer diesel models, but in the cold we can sometimes have more problems with the complex electronics onboard modern diesel buses.
“Our thinking then switched to the idea of progressively replacing our core fleet with electric buses.”
It’s a bold decision by Busfleet Australia, who in July began its first electric bus trial in the snow. It did so via VDI Australia, who provided a Yutong E12 electric bus for the trial.
Busfleet Australia first began talking to Yutong’s Australian distributor VDI about the novel concept before the snow season began this year. Geddes admits his first fear was about the upfront cost of electric vehicles, as well as whether they could handle the rigours of alpine work.
Yet pessimism soon turned to possibility as he began picturing a future where Yutong buses work effectively in transporting snow-goers up and down Mt Buller all year round.
“We can’t spend a lot of money on electric buses without first trialling them, so that’s where VDI came to the party to help us out,” Geddes says.
“If the buses can work on the mountain, then we know we can use them in other ways out of season too.”
With such a unique concept comes plenty of reservations. Before the trial kicked off in mid-July, Geddes says he understood the many challenges that come with trialling an electric bus in Australia’s snow-ridden regions. This includes the lack of charging infrastructure at an elevation of 1,500m, as well as the simple question of whether an electric bus can handle the tough demands of alpine work while delivering similar output when compared to diesel models.
Whatever answer emerges from the trial, Geddes is intent on investigating the zero-emissions technology.
“Getting infrastructure onto the mountain for the bus has been hard as there was nowhere to put the charger or plug it in,” Geddes says.
“We’re lucky that our client installed a recharge point especially for this trial, with VDI providing a tailored charger and trailer solution.
“The simple test for us is to see if this vehicle can run all day on our service and then charge enough overnight to do it again the next day.”
When VDI first heard of Busfleet Australia’s wish to trial an electric bus on Mt Buller, it didn’t take long for the distributor to leap at the opportunity. VDI Australia Southern account manager Peter Verbrugge says the Yutong E12 is perfect for the trial because it’s already a proven product in extreme weather conditions around the world.
“VDI and Yutong are both fully prepared for this trial having had E12s already working in this environment,” Verbrugge told ABC.
“The trial is an incredible opportunity to show off the versatility of the E12 and the Yutong product. As both governments and the public drive to see more zero-emissions buses on the road, VDI and Yutong have proven experience in this area and want to be at the forefront of the transition in Australia.”
The trial, which will run for three weeks, will put the E12 front of mind for all involved. Busfleet Australia hopes the electric bus is successful in completing its runs while providing a more environmentally friendly option for Mt Buller, while VDI and Yutong will use the telematics system to analyse the performance of the vehicle.
On the opening day of the trial, Verbrugge says there was a real buzz around the mountain with drivers keen to trial the electric bus and extra passengers hopping onboard. Once the trial is done, VDI will look through the data to see if the battery range is sufficient for the E12 to permanently run in alpine conditions.
“Driver feedback will also play a big part of the trial’s success, as we value what drivers have to say about the E12,” Verbrugge says.
“For us, it’s not about just testing the vehicle, but for the operator to also see for themselves how the E12 can successfully handle this environment. We were always confident, especially after seeing how reliably our 12 E12 evaluation buses have performed in Canberra.”
The end goal for VDI/ Yutong is for Yutong buses to be acknowledged as the ideal long-term investment for low-floor electric bus fleets performing in any environment, including the harshness of snow. Alongside the soon-to-be released D7e 27-seat electric minibus model, Yutong’s growing range in Australia is aiming to cater to the needs of all operators.
Although Geddes has initial concerns about the electric bus climbing hills in the cold, he’s also optimistic at the potential that regenerative braking can have for this vehicle technology in alpine conditions.
Alongside VDI’s data it’ll collect, Geddes also has his own electrical engineer investigating the trial to see how the bus runs along the six kilometre circuit between the carparks and alpine village for 10 hours non-stop each day.
Whatever happens during the three weeks, Geddes knows there’s only rewards awaiting for Busfleet Australia as it leaves no stone unturned looking for the most sustainable solution for alpine bus services in Australia.
“I’m really excited to learn about what this bus can do in these conditions,” Geddes says.
“I’m not that nervous. If it doesn’t work, then we’ll learn what is required to fix any issues, while if it does work, then it’ll be fantastic.
“We want to be leaders, alongside Mt Buller, in this space in alpine regions, so if it works, we’ll be aiming to replace our daily operating fleet with battery electric buses.”