While the economics of electric buses may make them an increasingly irresistible public transport option, year 4 student Annabelle Nicolson has a different reason for liking her new electrified ride to school.
- Hillcrest Christian College begins Gold Coast’s first electric bus school-run trial
- Transport research indicates car dependency is driving up congestion around schools
- A Griffith researcher predicts an uptake in the use of electric vehicles in public transport as costs drop
“If the gas from the bus goes into the air, then we, and the plants and the animals, can get sick,” she said.
Annabelle will be among the first students at Hillcrest Christian College to ride on its new electric bus as part of an upcoming trial.
The trial is the only one of its type on the Gold Coast, with the school hoping to transition its fleet over five years.
But according to Griffith University’s Transport Research Group, as fuel prices rise and maintenance costs drop, more schools should follow suit.
“We’re at the inflection point now, where if you were setting up a new operation with the depot and fleet, you would probably want to invest in electric,” Griffith University’s Matthew Burke said.
“The costs are just starting to become obvious that that’s what you do, particularly with fuel prices having leapt up in recent months,” Professor Burke said.
“The maintenance burden, in particular, of an electric vehicle is significantly lower than that of an internal combustion engine.”
‘Unsustainable’ transport problem
Professor Burke said Griffith studies have shown unsustainable trends in Gold Coast transport, with about three-quarters of students being driven to school in cars.
“People have shifted into SUVs, which with light trucks, are about three-quarters of all sales here now,” he said.
“It’s pretty polluting.”
The Gold Coast City Council’s transport strategy, which is currently being revised, shows the population increasing from 640,000 to one million people by 2041 “could lead to a doubling of car trips on our road network by 2031”.
Moreover, each car only carries an average of about one person during peak hours.
But Professor Burke said the Gold Coast had taken steps in the right direction, with Australia’s first 100-per-cent electric bus depot opening in Currumbin earlier this year that would service a local fleet of 14.
“I first rode on these vehicles in China in Guangzhou,” he said.
“100 per cent of their fleet is electric now, has been for a long time, and as a user it was so much more pleasant than riding on the buses in Australia.”
‘Irresistible’ economic prospect
While the up-front cost of electric vehicles exceeded their combustion alternatives, Professor Burke said that the change over time with the price of core minerals used in EV production was expected to drop.
“I’d imagine most fleets will convert over the next 10 years just because the economics will be irresistible,” he said.
“It’ll just be cheaper to run, cheaper to maintain in the long term.”
State government estimates show lower-end EV cars cost $3 per 100km to operate, compared to $14.25 for a four-cylinder internal combustion engine.
EV manufacturer Nextport estimated that its electric buses were 30 per cent cheaper to maintain than their diesel counterparts.
“Charge time on the bus that is in the trial is between four to five hours,” Nexport’s director of mobility Pierre El Chiekh said.
“Our standard range is about 320 [kilometres].”
A lesson in the unknown
Hillcrest has begun trialling the buses along school pick-up routes with weights to test range, running costs and load capacity.
But Hillcrest’s finance manager Rachel Collins said there was also a symbolic lesson for students.
“The jobs that our kids are going to be going for, 65 per cent of them don’t even exist,” she said.
“What we can teach them is to be curious about the world, to research, and to find their way.
“When we bring in new technology early, like the bus, we’re modeling that we don’t really understand all of it, we’re going to make mistakes, and we might have issues charging the bus or problems along the way.
“But that’s what life is, and that’s what you need to learn.”