Calls to cut Lonsdale St bus emissions

By David Schout

Replacing harmful diesel buses that run along Lonsdale St with electric alternatives would be a “significant step” to reducing CBD air pollution, according to the City of Melbourne.

In submissions to a state government inquiry into the health impacts of air pollution, a number of key bodies expressed concerns about diesel emissions from public buses. 

The council said that Lonsdale St — which saw more than 1000 bus movements a day, serving 16 routes — was an area of particular concern within the Hoddle Grid. 

At peak times, more than 1400 people walked on Lonsdale St between Swanston and Russell streets every hour.

“The buses run on diesel fuel, the emissions of which are implicated in human cancer, heart and lung damage, and undermining mental functioning,” the council’s submission read.

“Converting the Lonsdale St bus corridor to zero emissions would be a significant step towards reducing the harm caused by air pollution in the city.”

The call to replace diesel buses has become more pertinent in recent months, in particular as some hospitality venues make outdoor dining arrangements permanent.

“One of the reasons the City of Melbourne supports zero emission buses is the need to improve the quality of the outdoor environment in the city, including reducing air pollution, to support all sorts of activity including outdoor dining as well as to reduce the harmful effects of pollution on health,” it said. 

In other submissions to the inquiry, researchers at the University of Melbourne’s Lung Health Research Centre highlighted the environmental and health impact of the current bus system.

The centre urged the state government to “accelerate the decommissioning of diesel buses and conversion of the fleet to zero-emission vehicles”.

It highlighted how some cities around the world had taken a proactive approach to tackling dangerous bus emissions, while Melbourne was “moving in the opposite direction”.

“The City of London is attempting to tackle nitrogen dioxide levels with road-side monitoring, low-emission zones where diesel vehicles are banned, increased cycling infrastructure, anti-idling policies, upgrading to electric buses and banning combustion vehicles as of 2030,” it read.

“Melbourne is moving in the opposite direction with an increasing reliance on road transport and a rapidly expanding fleet of freight trucks that drive through densely populated inner-city areas.”

Appearing as a witness to the inquiry, Professor Michael Abramson from the Centre for Air Pollution, Energy and Health Research also said “there is a very good argument for electric buses”.

He too called for “significant reductions of fossil fuel power generation and internal combustion engine driven transport”.

In November 2020 the state government announced it had allocated $20 million for a trial of zero emission buses.

Earlier this year Lord Mayor Sally Capp wrote to Transport Minister Ben Carroll supporting the introduction of zero-emission buses in the CBD.

In its submission to the inquiry it also called for more sophisticated measurement of air pollution to inform the public of hotspots. 

“The City of Melbourne would welcome initiatives to improve the measurement of air pollution in the city, particularly around busy roads with high volumes of diesel vehicles,” it said.

“Ideally, information about air pollution would be available publicly via the internet including advice to the public on how to minimise exposure. A comparison of air quality near busy roads with air quality in other parts of the city (parks, indoors, in quiet streets) would help us prioritise mitigation measures in relation to traffic pollution.”

An Upper House parliamentary committee, which is conducting the inquiry, will report its findings in late August •

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