MILLIONS of pounds worth of new buses bought from Wrightbus in Ballymena for service in Dublin are lying idle near Dundalk - because their owners don’t have proper charging points in their depots.
The National Transport Authority (NTA) in the Republic announced an order in June last year for 120 double-deck battery-electric vehicles for Dublin Bus and Bus Éireann.
It was part of a framework agreement which provides for the procurement of up to 800 zero-emission buses over five years and represented an investment of more than €80 million.
The Republic's Minister for Transport Eamon Ryan said at the time that commissioning and training activities "would get under way by the end of 2022", as would work on installing the necessary charging infrastructure.
But the Irish News has learnt that, while the first phase of buses has been manufactured and delivered by Wrightbus, many of the vehicles are currently parked up at a coach company's premises in Ardee.
It is understood the buses are in storage because Bus Éireann/Dublin Bus don’t have appropriate charging points in their depots - nor do they have any mechanics trained to work on them, or recovery systems to use in the event of breakdown.
Contacted by the Irish News, the Department of Transport in Dublin admitted there has been planning issues around installing the charging infrastructure.
A spokesman said: "A depot electrification project is under way to instal multiple electric chargers in Summerhill and Phibsborough depots for the new electric fleet.
"While the contractor had programmed for all of these chargers to be installed and commissioned by the start of September, the installation was delayed due to a planning consent issue for aspects of the contractor’s design.
"But that issue has now been resolved, with a planning exemption granted by Dublin City Council for the installation at one of the depots being electrified (Summerhill) and a planning permission granted for the installation at the second depot (Phibsborough).
"Dublin Bus has been engaging with the contractor to minimise any resultant delay and it is still intended that the new electric buses will be brought into operational service later this year on an incremental basis – vehicles will be gradually swapped out on a week-by-week basis over about a three-month period."
The spokesman added: "Testing, commissioning and driver familiarisation is now ongoing using the new vehicles, which will be charged for test/training purposes via the chargers already installed for the previously purchased hybrid diesel-electric buses. The testing/training phase will take about three months."
The Department of Transport refused to response to an Irish News question asking what cost has been associated with keeping the buses garaged for longer than anticipated.
A total of 760 drivers will be trained up in the coming months, the NTA said.
The NTA board recently approved the ordering of an additional 210 buses from Wrightbus for delivery in 2024 under the framework agreement.
That's in addition to the 120 ordered in June 2022 and the 91 ordered in December, bringing to 421 the total number of electric buses due to enter service during the next 24 months.
"In other words, within two years, about a third of our urban bus fleet will already be zero-emission," the NTA said.