Calls for AT to tell operators to stop buying diesel buses

May 22, 2019

Calls for AT to tell operators to stop buying diesel buses

Sarah Thomson, from the Waitematā Low Carbon Network, wants Auckland Transport to make a quicker transition to a zero-emission bus fleet. Photo: Irra Lee

Interview with Sarah Thomson from the Waitematā Low Carbon Network.

Auckland Transport is facing pressure from a climate change advocacy group telling bus operators to stop buying diesel immediately.

Waitematā Low Carbon Network member Sarah Thomson said it was vital the city did not lock itself to a future of air pollution by introducing new diesel buses. The New Zealand Transport Agency’s bus emission standards would allow new buses to be contracted for public transport for 20 years.

Ms Thomson said this was not good enough as “[the climate] isn’t going to care about when a contract starts and ends”.

She also wanted to see a faster transition to a full zero-emission bus fleet from 2030, a decade before the 2040 target set out by AT’s Low Emission Bus Roadmap.

The roadmap, which outlined how Auckland will transition to an all-electric bus fleet, committed to only purchasing zero-emission buses from 2025.

Darek Koper, a contributor of the bus roadmap, said it was “not realistic” to immediately stop the purchase of diesel vehicles.

He said this was because bus companies own and purchase their fleets, not AT.

“We can’t stop [bus companies] buying diesel buses or whatever other business they may have, but we can influence what type of technology we accept going forward as a replacement for those older diesel buses that have to be retired,” Mr Koper said.

He said a transition as early as 2025 would require willingness from utility companies to upgrade electricity infrastructure.

“Parts of Auckland require quite an expensive upgrade of their electricity supply grid, and that will be a very important piece of work to enable electrification,” he said.

Auckland Council air quality scientist Nick Talbot said the electrification of buses would “make a significant improvement in air quality downtown”.

His study found black carbon - sooty fine carbon particles from diesel engines that pollute the air - was increasing in the CBD. The study also found diesel buses were “the likely key emission source” on Queen St.

Black carbon is associated with heart disease and cancer.

Dr Talbot supported advancing the 2040 date, but said the complexities of current bus contracts and infrastructure requirements meant “it’s not just a swap-out”.

Birkenhead Transport’s Bruce Inwards said in a statement that bus operators see the “significant positive reasons and benefits” of electric vehicles, as electric motors require less maintenance than combustion engines.

Mr Inwards said there was currently a lack of infrastructure that would deliver enough high-voltage electricity to bus depots to be able to charge the buses.

“There are some short-term hurdles that need to be worked through.

“The technology has to prove itself,” he said.

In a letter to AT’s CEO Shane Ellison, several councillors said they wanted to see the 2040 date “advanced considerably”.

In a statement obtained through the Official Information Act, AT said 221 buses needed to be replaced from now until 2025.

AT is currently exploring various time frames to transition to a zero-emission bus fleet, including modelling an option for 2030.

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