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NSW govt’s electric bus fleet off track

Electric buses are making up more of Australia's fleet, with another 17 being added in Queensland.

Electric buses are making up more of Australia's fleet, with another 17 being added in Queensland. Photo: AAP

A “castles in the sky” plan by the NSW government to convert 8000 diesel buses to electric has been delayed by five years.

Following an ambitious idea from former transport minister Andrew Constance in 2019, the government began work to transition the diesel and gas buses to electric by 2030.

The government bought just 200 electric buses last financial year and plans to buy another 200 next financial year, Infrastructure Minister Rob Stokes told a budget estimates hearing on Tuesday.

The project now has a revised finish date of 2035, Mr Stokes said.

“It’s good to build castles in the sky then go about building foundations underneath them,” Mr Stokes said, when asked about the plan’s viability.

“That’s exactly what we’re doing in the final business case.”

Asked if the plan was now to have a fleet of about 1100 electric buses – 6900 fewer than originally anticipated – Mr Stokes said details were still being determined.

“Certainly my aspiration would be to do everything we can to get there even quicker than (2035),” he said.

Decisions would be made after the business case was completed, he said.

Transport Minister David Elliott recently criticised his predecessor for setting such an ambitious target.

“There’s no way in the world we’re going to meet that timetable, so I don’t know why he (Mr Constance) said it,” Mr Elliott told a budget estimates hearing last month.

“I’m committed to it …. (but) I’m not committed to the time frame that my predecessor offered up.”

Mr Stokes said he would choose a more charitable form of words.

“I certainly think he put out a bold goal,” he said.

“We’re going to reach their target a little later than he suggested.”

Mr Stokes also addressed the government’s apparent interest in flying cars – referred to in a draft version of a 50-year blueprint for the state’s future transport strategy.

The final document made reference to emerging technologies allowing electric and hydrogen vehicles a vertical takeoff, which it said could potentially form a more personalised, faster form of transport.

“I certainly think we need to be open to what the technology of the future could offer,” Mr Stokes said.

“I don’t anticipate that we’ll be flying around in cars anytime soon.”

Mr Stokes also affirmed the government’s commitment to fast rail, but said he understood public scepticism.

The government made a $500 million commitment to upgrading the rail line between Newcastle and Sydney via the Central Coast at the most recent budget, and hopes for further investment from the Commonwealth.

The infrastructure minister said upgrades were not for a fast rail project, but were needed to enable possible future fast rail in NSW.

“That’s the first piece of the puzzle,” Mr Stokes said.

– AAP

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