Buses get the silent treatment

Sydney buses to go battery electric in largest ever Australian fleet trial

Queensland’s arch-interstate rival New South Wales is continuing to kick ahead in the race to be Australia’s most electric-vehicle friendly state, with the announcement of Australia’s largest electric bus fleet trial.

The news of the electric bus fleet trial came after the NSW Government passed what has been described as Australia’s most progressive electric vehicle legislation to date, including capital investment in a comprehensive electric vehicle charging network in metropolitan and regional areas, the elimination of stamp duty on electric vehicles (EVs) together, along with access to transit lanes for EV drivers. 

Meanwhile, the Federal-Government-financed Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) announced $5 million in funding to support the pilot deployment of 40 electric buses, charging infrastructure and a retrofitted bus depot in Leichhardt in Sydney’s inner west.

A statement from ARENA said the $36 million project is to be delivered by a Transgrid and Zenobe joint venture, receiving funding and in-kind support from project partners including Transit Systems and Transport for NSW. 

The bulk of the financing for the project is coming from the Federal Government Clean Energy Finance Corporation, which is providing $24.5 million.

The three-year trial will drive the commercialisation of electric buses in Australia and continue the development of the Australian Government’s Future Fuel Strategy, the statement said. 

As part of the project, the Leichhardt depot is being retrofitted to include the use of 40 electric buses with a combination of 368kWh and 422 kWh onboard batteries, five 120 kW electric bus chargers capable of
charging two buses at a time, 31 80 kW electric bus chargers, 2.5 MW /4.9 MWh of stationary batteries, and 387 kW of rooftop solar PV. 

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the project represented the organisation’s first heavy vehicle EV project and an important scaling up from previous trials.

ARENA said previous electric bus trials in Australia had involved fewer than four buses each, making this trial important to demonstrate the technical and commercial feasibility of the electrification of large depot-scale bus fleets capable of travelling a complete route without needing to be re-charged.

“Heavy vehicle transport is an important area to target given that together buses and trucks account for 25% of transport-related carbon emissions and 5% of Australia’s total carbon emissions,” Mr Miller said.

“This trial represents the next step in helping to reduce emissions in public transport and heavy transport.

“We’re excited to be working alongside the consortium in showcasing this Australian-first initiative that we hope will kickstart the rollout of electric buses throughout the nation.”

The electric bus fleet will service public bus routes in Sydney’s
inner west, CBD, Mascot and Green Square.

The first 12 of the 40 new electric buses will begin to enter service this month, with the rest of the fleet arriving over the next four months. 

The NSW Government had already emerged as national leader in the Electric Vehicle Council’s Electric Vehicle Policy Scorecard, rating an impressive nine out of 10 in August this year for what the Council called “Australia’s best electric vehicle policy to date”. 

The report praised NSW for its introduction of a “whole-of-government Electric Vehicle Strategy, backed by $500 million in funded actions”, designed to accelerate the uptake of zero emissions vehicles. 

The removal of stamp duty and $3,000 rebates for EVs under a price cap, $171 million for co-funding infrastructure and 100% bus and government fleet targets, were cited by the council as being “real, meaningful actions that give confidence to consumers and industry, spurring greater investment and outcomes for the state”. 

These commitments were matched by a decision to delay road user charges in NSW until the market has matured, either by 2027 or until EVs account for 30% of sales, ultimately replacing upfront stamp duty charges.

“The NSW Government incentive program is significant and comparable with leading jurisdictions overseas and we are optimistic about the effect it will have on electric vehicle availability and sales,” CEO Behyad Jafari said.

Speaking after the subsequent 20 October passing of the state’s new EV legislation, the Chief Executive of the Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries (FCAI) Tony Weber said the NSW Government was setting a high standard for other governments to follow.

“Capital investment in a comprehensive electric vehicle charging network in metropolitan and regional areas is precisely the kind of tangible and practical policy setting that will increase the confidence of EV drivers across the state,” Mr Weber said.

“The accompanying reforms, including the elimination of stamp duty on EVs together with non-financial benefits of access to transit lanes for EV drivers, are also consistent with best practices from governments across the world.”

New buyers will potentially pay no net tax to the NSW Government until 2035 under the package, which the FACI said provides a real incentive to purchase an EV and the stimulus for the market to transition to a low emissions future.