Singapore on track to phase out diesel buses by 2040

01 Feb 2021

Straits Times, 1 Feb 2021, S'pore on track to phase out diesel buses by 2040
About 2 per cent of Singapore's public bus fleet now run on cleaner energy, and it is on track to phase out diesel buses in 20 years.

The goal to have all 5,800 public buses run fully on electricity or be at least hybrid-electric was set in late 2019, in line with Singapore's push to do its part to reverse the effects of global warming.

The Land Transport Authority (LTA) told The Straits Times last week that it is on track to meet this target by 2040.

Since buses must be replaced after being in service for 17 years, shorter than LTA's 20-year timeframe to fulfil its goal, the authority said it can renew its fleet as long as all bus purchases from now are for cleaner-energy buses only.

On Jan 11, the last batch of diesel buses was rolled out. The buses were bought before the LTA made its 2040 commitment.

Senior Minister of State for Foreign Affairs and Transport Chee Hong Tat has given assurances that these vehicles, bought from Alexander Dennis Services and ST Engineering, will be replaced by buses that run on cleaner energy after their 17-year statutory lifespan.

This is an important commitment, said Associate Professor Lynette Cheah, a researcher of engineering systems as well as design and industrial ecology at the Singapore University of Technology and Design. "We will enjoy cleaner air and a lower carbon footprint. In cities, it makes sense to electrify buses, given the shorter driving ranges and their driving cycles."

Electric buses require more frequent charging for a fixed distance compared with refuelling for diesel buses. But the relatively short, fixed routes and more predictable traffic conditions here mean that the charging issue need not be a major consideration for Singapore's fleet.

Most of the greenhouse gas emissions from Singapore's land transport comes from diesel use, with a report from the National Climate Change Secretariat in 2014 putting it at about 60 per cent.

Electrifying Singapore's fleet tackles the problem head on.

Assistant Professor Raymond Ong of the National University of Singapore's Faculty of Engineering said the heftier price tags for electric buses are worth it from a macro-perspective.

The LTA has said electric buses can cost up to twice as much as conventional diesel buses, although costs should come down with technology changes and wider adoption.

Prof Ong said: "While cleaner energy is more expensive currently, the reduction in carbon emission would reduce the overall load on carbon tax over the entire life cycle of the bus on the road.

"We also expect prices of the electric buses to drop over the years and the lifespan of batteries and range of electric buses to increase in the next 10 years."

But electrifying buses alone is not enough to make Singapore greener. Private cars contribute the lion's share of transport emissions. A car carrying only the driver uses nine times the energy used by a bus and 12 times that used by a train on a per-passenger-km-travelled basis.

The Government has taken steps to tackle this, encouraging the use of electric cars rather than those with internal combustion engines.

Rebates for buying cleaner vehicles and surcharges for more pollutive vehicles under the Vehicular Emissions Scheme increased this year. More than 26,000 electric vehicle charging points are set to be built by 2030, on top of the existing 1,800, making electric cars a more appealing option for drivers.

Prof Cheah, however, said that developments in Singapore's public transport cannot be underestimated. "Continuing to enhance public transport and keeping it the preferred mode for many, as opposed to private or private-hire car use, is still the most effective way to decarbonise our transport system."