Missed opportunities and Melbourne’s new hybrid buses

Back in April 2019 Daniel Andrews and the Minister for Public Transport were shouting ‘Melbourne first hybrid buses’ from the rooftops. But the reality is different – they’re not Melbourne’s first hybrid buses, we’re still buying hundreds of conventional diesel buses, and technology has already overtaken us.

CDC Melbourne photo

Some background

Here is the media release from the Minister for Public Transport

First New Hybrid Bus Ready To Hit Melbourne Roads

5 April 2019

The first of 50 new Hybrid technology buses for Melbourne’s bus network will take its first passengers next week, thanks to the Andrews Labor Government.

The new Victorian-built buses will be progressively rolled out across the next three years and will operate across bus routes in Wyndham, Oakleigh and Sunshine.

The buses will reduce fuel consumption and the impact on the environment, while improving passenger experience by delivering a quieter and smoother ride.

The Labor Government’s order for 50 new Hybrid buses into the CDC Victoria bus fleet is the single biggest order of hybrid buses in Australia.

The body construction and fit out for the new buses is being carried out in Dandenong by Volgren, supporting Victorian jobs and backing the local automotive industry to develop new capability and innovation.

All 50 buses will feature low floor layouts and are Euro 6 emission standard, the highest and cleanest level for commercial vehicles worldwide.

Hybrid technology uses the electric battery when idling and travelling under 20 km/h. The bus noise is significantly reduced when idling at stops and departing from stops, while trials in Victoria found Hybrid buses used 30 per cent less fuel.

30 Hybrid buses will be phased in over the next 12 months, with all 50 buses to be in service on CDC routes in Wyndham, Oakleigh and Sunshine by 2022.

With the hybrid buses now appearing across CDC Melbourne routes.

CDC Melbourne hybrid bus #152 BS05FJ on route 605 at Flagstaff station

Not the first hybrid

Hybrid buses were first trialled in Melbourne a decade ago.

Melbourne to host Australia’s first hybrid bus trial

June 28, 2009

Hybrid buses are set to hit Melbourne’s roads in an Australia-first trial aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions by a fifth compared with conventional buses.

Two hybrid-electric buses will go into service on two suburban routes in the $500,000 joint Victorian and federal government trial.

The trial will assess the viability of hybrid buses in reducing the carbon emissions of public transport.

If successful, the cleaner buses could be rolled out across the network.

“We believe the hybrid-electric bus trial will show how improvements in transport technology can deliver air quality improvements and reduce our carbon emissions,” Victorian Climate Change Minister Gavin Jennings said.

“It is estimated this hybrid-electric technology will provide a saving of around 20 per cent on fuel and greenhouse gas emissions compared to a conventional diesel bus.”

Grenda Corporation will trial a hybrid bus on its 900 route from Stud Park to Caulfield, in Melbourne’s southeast.

A second bus will be put in service on Ventura Buses’ 250 route from bayside Garden City to La Trobe University in the northern suburbs.

Two different technology platforms were used in the 2009 trial, with the Grenda bus still in service today, but the Ventura bus was put into storage following mechanical difficulties.

So why weren’t more hybrid buses ordered following the trial a decade ago?

Not even the first ‘real’ order

Latrobe Valley Bus Lines launched their Australia first fleet of hybrid buses back in August 2018.

Volgren, Volvo and Latrobe Valley Bus Lines unite in hybrid low-floor Aussie first

16 August 2018

The first of eight new Volgren-bodied Volvo hybrid chassis buses for Latrobe Valley Bus Lines (LVBL) – and the first full service hybrid in Australia – is being launched in Moe, Victoria, offering “up to a 40 per cent fuel saving” and cleaner Euro 6 emissions standards.

Dandenong-based bus body-building company Volgren is building the new Volvo Euro 6 buses on a hybrid chassis imported from Volvo in Sweden.

Volgren – now the first Australian manufacturer in the country to successfully deliver a bus body on the new Euro 6 Volvo B5LH hybrid – says it worked closely with the Volvo development team in Sweden, sharing concepts and refining the design of both the body and chassis, ensuring each stage was validated and complied with Australian Design Rules.

The completed prototype breaks new ground in bus body design and manufacturing assembly processes, says Michael Kearney, Volgren’s Product Engineering manager.

“The design and construction of the Euro 6 hybrid bus is quite different [to a traditional bus], with high voltage battery packs, radiator, air compressor and associated equipment all mounted in the roof,” Kearney explained.

With the majority of this hybrid’s components in the roof, those responsible for engineering, manufacturing and production had to rethink the assembly line. In fact, Kearney says, innovative changes were developed to accommodate the new build process to enable the Euro 6 hybrid to fit within the factory processes normally dedicated to the assembly of diesel buses.

So beaten to the punch there.

More diesel buses

At the same time as the State Government was boasting of 50 new hybrid buses, they announced an order of 100 brand new exhaust belching diesel buses!

Transdev bus #162 BS03LV at William and Lonsdale Street

From their media release:

Renewing Melbourne’s Biggest Bus Fleet

15 December 2018

The Andrews Labor Government will buy 100 new buses to support Melbourne’s public transport network, giving passengers across the city better buses to get wherever they need to go.

Minister for Public Transport Melissa Horne today announced the Labor Government will invest $16 million over the next two years to replace and modernise the ageing state-owned bus fleet used on routes operated by Transdev Melbourne.

The new bus order will improve reliability and comfort for passengers, with Transdev exploring passenger-focused improvements including onboard Wi-Fi, mobile phone charging and improved passenger displays.

Many of the buses operated by Transdev are older than the industry average and are susceptible to reliability issues, particularly during hot weather.

The new buses will be built in line with the Government’s Local Jobs First policy, meaning they will be made with 60 per cent local content and create more than 20 new jobs for locals in Dandenong, Truganina and other potential locations.

I wrote about Transdev’s fleet maintenance issues last year, so the new buses are much needed.

Transdev bus #1132 BS05AH heads west on route 232 at Collins and Spencer Street

Due to the size of the order, it was split between two bus builders.

Ballarat automotive manufacturer OzPress Industries has partnered with South East Asia’s largest bus body builder Gemilang, to deliver 50 new buses for Victorian passengers.

The remaining 50 buses are being built at Volgren’s Dandenong factory, providing further Victorian employment opportunities connected to the upgrade of Melbourne’s bus fleet.

So why are the new buses for Transdev not hybrids? Apparently cost is the reason – the government is desperate for new buses, and isn’t willing to prise open their chequebook to help the environment.

And behind the times in technology

Electric buses are now the future of public transport, with the Chinese city of Shenzhen hitting the worldwide news in 2018 when they moved to a 100% electric bus fleet.

From The Guardian:

Shenzhen’s silent revolution: world’s first fully electric bus fleet quietens Chinese megacity

12 December 2018

Shenzhen now has 16,000 electric buses in total and is noticeably quieter for it.

The benefits from the switch from diesel buses to electric are not confined to less noise pollution: this fast-growing megacity of 12 million is also expected to achieve an estimated reduction in CO2 emissions of 48% and cuts in pollutants such as nitrogen oxides, non-methane hydrocarbons and particulate matter. Shenzhen Bus Group estimates it has been able to conserve 160,000 tonnes of coal per year and reduce annual CO2 emissions by 440,000 tonnes. Its fuel bill has halved.

The main roadblock – cost:

China’s drive to reduce the choking smog that envelops many of its major cities has propelled a huge investment in electric transport. Although it remains expensive for cities to introduce electric buses – one bus costs around 1.8 million yuan (£208,000) – Shenzhen was able to go all-electric thanks to generous subsidies from both central and local government.

Availability of changing stations:

To keep Shenzhen’s electric vehicle fleet running, the city has built around 40,000 charging piles. Shenzhen Bus Company has 180 depots with their own charging facilities installed. One of its major depots in Futian can accommodate around 20 buses at the same time. “Most of the buses we charge overnight for two hours and then they can run their entire service, as the range of the bus is 200km per charge,” says Ma.

And geography.

Shenzhen is fairly flat, but the hills of nearby Hong Kong have proven too much in trials of electric buses. Other cities in northern China have struggled with battery power in the extreme cold of winter.

But availability of ‘clean’ electricity doesn’t need to be – Victoria built a $198 million solar farm at Numurkah to power our tram fleet, so we could do the same to power electric buses.

So why does it matter?

Once an operator buys a new bus, they’ve committed to using it around Melbourne for the next 20+ years.

Back in the late-1990s some bus operators delayed the introduction of ‘new fangled’ low floor buses to their fleets. Twenty years on, we’re still feeling the impact of this decision, as passengers in wheelchairs get left behind whenever an inaccessible high floor bus shows up.

CDC Melbourne high floor #50 4929AO heads for the depot from Sunshine station

Our tardiness introducing clean buses will have the same impact on Melbourne of the 2040s – today’s ‘new’ diesel buses will be even more polluting as they age.


Australian bus body manufacturer Volgren has their fingers in many pies – they’re building the 50 hybrid buses for CDC Melbourne, 50 diesel buses for Transdev, and now their first electric bus.

Australian bus builder Volgren to produce its first all-electric vehicle

May 14, 2019

Australian bus body manufacturer Volgren has commenced production of its first ever electric bus, as part of what the company hopes is a larger transition to zero-emissions transport.

The milestone is the culmination of a five-year development period for Volgren, which has sought to be pro-active in shifting to all electric buses, while wanting to ensure passengers enjoy a reliable service.

Volgren says it is Australia’s largest producer of bus bodies and has previously partnered with major chassis manufacturers including MAN, Volvo and Scania.

“We’ve known for some time that the bus industry was about to go through its biggest transformation in three or four decades. And we wanted to approach this shift with the best information at our disposal.” Volgren business development manager Jon Tozer said in a statement.

“We wanted to understand the products, the technologies and the solutions available in the market before beginning our work in earnest,”

Volgren will complete its first prototype electric bus in June, with an operating range of 250km. The prototype will be produced at Volgren’s Australian headquarters in Dandenong in Victoria.

The bus will be equipped with 324kWh of battery storage, that can be charged in four to five hours between routes upon returning to its depot.

Due to the falling cost of battery technologies, Volgren believes the bus market is on the cusp of being cost competitive with existing diesel fuelled options.

While all electric buses still have higher up-front purchase costs, significantly lower operating costs, including reduced fuel costs, mean that electric buses will soon be cheaper over the full life of the vehicle, if not already.

“When you take into account the significant operation saving in maintenance and energy costs per kilometre, as well as the significant fall in the cost and increase in energy density of batteries over the last few years, we’re nearing the point where total cost of ownership will soon be the same as it is for a diesel, if it isn’t already.” Tozer said.

I wonder who will be the first Victorian bus operator to take up the opportunity?

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12 Responses to “Missed opportunities and Melbourne’s new hybrid buses”

  1. […] (Marcus Wong points out in his blog today that they’ve also missed an opportunity to shift to more hybrid or electric buses.) […]

  2. Myrtonos says:

    Let’s not forget trolleybuses, which have worked well for many times longer than hybrids.

  3. Michael Angelico says:

    The problem with both hybrid and electric buses is battery tech. We don’t have batteries that will last 20 years, and replacing them isn’t easy.

    Theoretically, buses are big enough to use supercapacitors instead of batteries. They charge faster too. Hopefully Volgren can keep their finger on the pulse and bring us lithium free buses in a few years.

  4. Andrew S says:

    Seems to have happened more than once before – to envisage electric battery powered buses then the cost (and maybe the operation?) get in the way.

    Wellington NZ ceased trolleybus operations in October 2017 and pulled down the overhead wires during 2018 with the idea that they would be retrofitted with batteries for wireless electric operation. Now it looks like a one-way trip to the scrappers yard for the fleet. In their place run diesel buses, including some ex-Auckland ones at the moment.

    • Marcus Wong says:

      One could argue that building a new trolleybus network from scratch is a waste given straight electric buses are no economic, but pulling down an existing network is criminal.

  5. […] And the story isn’t any different today – some Melbourne bus operators kept buying high floor buses despite the availability of accessible low floor models, and today we’re still buying old fashioned diesel buses instead of hybrid or 100% electric buses. […]

  6. […] not much of an improvement over the 50 hybrid buses bought back in […]

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