Just 16 buses doing public transport rounds in New Zealand, despite push to decarbonise

Despite efforts to encourage reduce greenhouse gas emissions, New Zealand had just 16 electric buses used by public transport providers as of August 2019.

They represent just 0.67 per cent of the roughly 2300 buses used for public transport in New Zealand.

The statistics come from a briefing on decarbonising public transport produced for Transport Minister Phil Twyford.

"Decarbonising the public transport fleet is a priority for our Government," said Twyford.

But he said moving cars and trucks off the road was a bigger priority.

"With transport making up 20 per cent of New Zealand's greenhouse gas emissions, and public transport making up just 2 per cent, much of our focus is on getting more cars and trucks off our roads," he said.

Diesel busses contribute 95 per cent of public transport emissions. While this contribution may be small, new diesel buses lock-in emissions for a long time.

The briefing says that diesel busses produced "in the next few years" are likely to continue producing greenhouse gas emissions and "harmful pollutants" until 2040 and beyond.

Transport has been the fastest growing source of emissions over the last 30 years. Transport emissions increased by 82 per cent between 1990 and 2017, with road transport emissions increasing by 98 per cent over this period.

While diesel busses emit a lot of carbon, they were still preferable to having the same number of passengers driving private non-electric vehicles.

Minister Transport Phil Twyford says decarbonising Public Transport is still a priority.


Minister Transport Phil Twyford says decarbonising Public Transport is still a priority.

The briefing said the Ministry was "not currently planning any additional work to decarbonise public transport fleets, as we have prioritised other work to reduce GHG [greenhouse gas] emissions from private vehicles and freight".

The main concern with the buses isn't so much climate change, but health.

Diesel vehicles emissions have been proved to have a negative impact on public health, leading to respiratory illnesses.

"We need to get dirty diesel off our streets. Diesel pollutes our environment and has a harmful effect on people with respiratory issues," Twyford said.

Auckland Transport calculated the shift to cleaner vehicles in Auckland would deliver "social benefits" including emissions reductions, noise and health benefits worth £141.3 million over 23 years.

The main obstacle to purchasing electric buses is cost. Currently bus costs between £750,000 and £850,000 compared with £400,000 to £450,000 for an equivalent diesel model.

The uptake of electric buses is mainly the responsibility of local governments, who contract out bus services.

But these contractors are currently charging an annual 20-25 per cent price premium for supplying electric buses over diesel. According to the Ministry of Transport, this accounts for "operators' concerns about vehicle life and resale value".

The Ministry of Transport says this cost could be reduced by leasing batteries for roughly £15,000 to £30,000 a year. Batteries are the most expensive parts of electric busses, costing between £220,000 and £260,000.

The Ministry suggests the Government could look at purchasing these batteries and leading them back to operators.

China is leading the way in electric bus uptake. Of the 425,000 electric busses in the world, 421,000 are in China, roughly 18 per cent of its total bus fleet.

An artist impression of the new CityLink electric bus, 12 of which enter service by the end of 2020

Supplied/Auckland Transport An artist impression of the new CityLink electric bus, 12 of which enter service by the end of 2020

The Ministry says the cost of charging infrastructure is also a significant barrier.

Once rolled out, the buses are expected to deliver significant cost savings.

A 2018 trial in Auckland found electric busses are about four times cheaper to run than diesels, although fluctuations in fuel prices mean an exact figure is difficult to ascertain.

One suggestion from the Ministry to increase uptake of electric busses is to extend the exemption on Road User Charges, or RUCs. The previous National government exempted all electric vehicles from the charge.

This exemption for heavy vehicles is set to expire in December 2025. The Government did not respond to questions about whether the RUC exemption should be extended.

The RUC exemption currently saves the average electric bus £5,000 a year.

Another potential policy was the tightening of procurement rules for Government-funded services like school busses.

This would mean operators of these services would have to use electric vehicles.

"Officials are working on how we can transition the public transport fleet away from diesel to lower emissions.

There are a number of options including electricity, hydrogen and biofuels," Twyford said.

"We are aiming to decarbonise the public transport fleet in the next two decades," he said.



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