Electric buses to improve CBD air quality

By David Schout

Some of the harmful diesel buses that run along Lonsdale St could be replaced with electric alternatives as early as June 2022, in a move that will lessen air pollution in the CBD. 

During the next nine years, 341 electric and hybrid buses will be introduced into the metropolitan network, including a commitment for five in the first half of 2022. 

The pledge was part of a $2.3 billion contract announced in October between the state government and Melbourne-based company Kinetic to operate a third of the metropolitan bus network, taking over current operator Transdev.

While the state government could not yet confirm specific zero or low-emission routes, some of the 16 routes that travel along Lonsdale St — Melbourne’s busiest bus corridor which — are likely to feature in the initial stages of the rollout.

Kinetic has committed to introducing 36 fully electric buses to the network by mid-2025.

The move is a welcome one for CBD locals after a report earlier this year suggested diesel fumes from buses on Lonsdale St, which saw more than 1000 bus movements a day, was a significant factor in the city’s air quality.

In a submission to the state government inquiry into the health impacts of air pollution, the City of Melbourne said the busy bus street should be made a priority. 

“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,” it read.

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

As part of the new contract, almost two-thirds of the 537-bus fleet will be replaced with low or zero emission vehicles before mid-2031.

The electric buses will be deployed from the Sunshine and Heatherton depots.

The state government had already pledged for all new public transport buses to be zero emissions from 2025.

Speaking of the deal in parliament, Minister for Public Transport Ben Carroll said it was addressing an important issue. 

“We know tackling transport emissions is imminent and vitally important. It is the second-largest source of emissions in our economy and the fastest growing,” he said. 

“We know buses coming out of COVID have been one of the most resilient forms of public transport. We also know that buses return $5 to the community for every $1 invested (and that) one bus has the equivalent of taking 50 cars off the street.”

The Public Transport Users Association gave it the tick of approval. 

“The shift towards electric buses is very welcome and will help public transport continue to be one of the cleanest ways to get around our city,” the PTUA said on Twitter.

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

In its submission to the air pollution inquiry, the City of Melbourne said the need to replace diesel buses had become more pertinent during the past 18 months, particularly as some hospitality venues made 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 •

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