This is a guest post from reader Tim Frank
Since 2018 battery-electric buses have been used as part of the Christchurch urban bus fleet. By now 20% of the fleet are battery-electric buses. So there’s a good chance if you catch a bus in Christchurch it would be an electric bus. So what is it like catching a battery-electric bus in Christchurch? What is the passenger experience?
Alexander Dennis / BYD
In 2018 Red Bus introduced the first battery-electric buses to Christchurch. The three buses were specifically purchased for the City – Airport route (Route 29). This allowed passengers to go to the airport with a somewhat easier conscience when they were travelling on polluting aircraft. The buses were developed and built through a joint venture between Alexander Dennis Limited, an established bus builder from the United Kingdom, and BYD Auto, a Chinese car manufacturer.
These buses are probably some of the most comfortable of Christchurch buses and have some similarity to European buses. Appropriate for buses running to the airport they have some luggage storage near the front of the bus. On the left hand side is a large open area for wheelchair users / push chairs and other large items with four folding seats. On the right hand side there are comfortable standard seats. That gives plenty of seats at the lower level with sufficient accessible space. The seats at the back of the bus are higher, reached by two relatively low steps.
The buses are very quite and run smoothly. The good air conditioning was also noticeable. These are probably my favourite battery-electric buses used in Christchurch at the moment.
Global Bus Ventures EV 396
The next battery-electric buses used in Christchurch were supplied by Rolleston bus manufacturer Global Bus Ventures. They were introduced by Go Bus from 2021. The first of these buses was used on the Orbiter route and can be seen operating among other electric buses on that route.
Passengers will notice that these buses have somewhat less headroom than most other buses. Maybe that is because so much of the equipment is roof-mounted. These buses have a small accessible area either side of the vehicle, just behind the front wheels, as is customary for urban buses in Christchurch. They have a level aisle for nearly the entire vehicle, coming somewhat closer to European buses. Towards the back of the bus the seats are a step up from the aisle. Overall the interior feels comfortable and accessible.
There are two draw-backs. The buses constantly creak and the drive is not quite as smooth as the Alexander Dennis vehicles, but overall they are a clear improvement over diesel buses. Apparently they are not liked by drivers. This may explain that not many have been purchased. I recently used this bus when it replaced a diesel bus that had developed problems and passengers had to change buses midway through the trip.
The Yutong buses were introduced by Go Bus from late 2021. They are now the standard Orbiter buses and also used on some other routes. Yutong is a large Chinese bus manufacturer.
These buses have only one passenger seat ahead of the front wheels. Behind the front wheels on either side is the small accessible area for wheelchairs / pushchairs. Apart from two folding seats there are only a total of 7 seats at the boarding level. All other seats are in the raised part at the back.
This can only be reached by two fairly high steps. The seats are another step up from the aisle. This means that the passengers at the back sit very high in the vehicle and that getting in and out of the seats is difficult. These buses are a sharp contrast to the two previous battery-electric bus models, which tended towards the European standard. Instead the Yutong buses embedded the less accessible bus standard common in New Zealand. The suspension is a bit rigid. I’ve been caught out with the air-conditioning on these buses, which often seems very cold and sometimes has a somewhat strange odour. These are clearly not my favourite battery-electric buses, but overall they are still better than many diesel buses.
The newest addition to the fleet are buses by Geely, a Chinese manufacturer of vans, trucks and buses. These have been introduced by Go Bus in 2023. They have a modern, sleek look.
Inside they are similar to the Yutong Buses with small accessible areas behind the front wheels and just one passenger seat ahead of the front wheels. Here, too, there are only seven seats accessible from the level area, in addition to the two folding seats. All the other seats are in the rear part, which is reached by two relatively high steps, though they seem somewhat more manageable than the steps on the Yutong buses. The seats are another step up from the aisle. Here, too, passengers sit quite high in the vehicle and getting to the seats isn’t that easy. The ride of the buses is a bit smoother than in the Yutong buses, but not as nice as the Alexander Dennis buses. These buses are a bit short, so that at the City Interchange the rear doors don’t align well with the sliding doors.
It seems Christchurch bus operators have decided on Chinese suppliers when buying battery-electric buses. These buses are probably cheaper and comply with standards. It seems that the model supplied by local manufacturer Global Bus Ventures got some things right for passengers, introducing a more level layout that is comparable to European buses. However, it seems the overall quality, especially from the perspective of drivers, is not convincing. As GBV buses are the standard urban bus used by New Zealand operators this is somewhat surprising.
It is unfortunate that the bus operators did not go for more European designs, which have low-floor access through most of the vehicle. This would have made travel more comfortable and accessible, and would have allowed for speedier passenger exchange. It seems that for the foreseeable future passengers have to clamber to their seats high up in the back of the bus.