“A step change in environmental impact and improved passenger experience through noise reduction”

Today I had the privilege of attending the launch of Volvo’s Hybrid bus technology in Australia. Courtesy of the only transport company in Australia to be a certified B-corp; Latrobe Valley Bus Lines. A 70 year old business proving that it is possible to have a positive social and environmental impact within a traditional regulated service business. The shiny new buses enable a step change in environmental impact and improved passenger experience through noise reduction.

I was inspired on multiple fronts. It was evident why Volvo see hybrid technology as the future of mainstream public transport. The longest bus routes in Melbourne, the 901/2/3 routes, see vehicles on the road for up to 5-6 hours. Without cost prohibitive infrastructure upgrades such times and distances would not be possible with electric alone. The Volvo’s battery is charged during breaking, which for anyone who has travelled on a suburban bus route particularly with a pram is something that happens a lot!

Much of the time the diesel and electric motors run in tandem, with excess power from the diesel engine acting like a generator when not required to propel the vehicle. The stop-start, low speed nature of many suburban bus routes lends itself perfectly to the capability of an electric system with the diesel providing back up when required. In the case of the Latrobe Valley the buses also transverse the freeway where the acceleration provided by the diesel is essential. 

Bus operators from afar afield as Tasmania and Bayside were represented as were Volvo buses international and Public Transport Victoria (PTV); the excitement was palatable. In an industry who by their very operation connect people to health services, education, community and so much more, it was invigorating to hear that there is such significant and economically attractive steps that can be taken to reduce the environmental impact (the new buses are greater than 30% more efficient).

It was heartening to hear the buses are manufactured from the Volvo chassis up by Melbourne based Volgren. I was encouraged to hear that their skills and workmanship are valued a far afield as Japan where they are exporting over 30 buses to. Due to our workmanship, knowledge and geography I am a firm believer that manufacturing will continue to play a vital role in Australia’s economy.
Beyond the transport industry this is a timely reminder that in real world application,  a single technology is rarely a perfect fit.
As a technology is optimised the more specific the ideal application or problem it solves becomes. In niche problems this is necessary to reach an effective outcome, but like the charging infrastructure required for a fully electric transport system, the more supporting infrastructure or systems are likely to be required. Hybrid public passenger vehicles provide an excellent case of where two apparently competing technologies, when combined, provide the best of both worlds. Thus a solution that is highly attractive to both environmentally and commercially minded customers. 

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