Zero-emission buses – another step closer to a route near you

(One of the 40-foot buses currently under evaluation. They operate at all times of the day on several trips and routes to gain experience under a variety of conditions. They are recognizable by their red and green appearance that promotes their role in reducing City emissions. Photo: OC-Transpo)

With the gradual phase-out of diesel buses as they reach the end of their life cycle, OC Transpo could achieve a fully zero-emission bus fleet by 2036. The transition from diesel buses to battery-electric is one of the most impactful actions the City can take to meet its goal of reducing greenhouse-gas emissions from City operations by 100 per cent by 2040.

At the lengthy January 27th special Transit Commission meeting, approval was granted for the funding model and business case for the Zero-Emission Bus program – pending Council approval on February 1st. Once final approval is received, this will allow staff to leverage a funding grant from Infrastructure Canada for $350 million and a loan from the Canada Infrastructure Bank for $380 million. Staff will then proceed with the implementation phase for facility upgrades, charging infrastructure and the procurement of battery-electric buses. 

According to the June, 2021 Zero-Emission Buses for OC Transpo report, the first purchase would include 74 40-foot buses to be ordered in 2022 and delivered in 2023. These dates are now obviously delayed. In 2021, the unit cost of a 40-foot battery-electric bus was approximately $1.3 million. The cost of charging equipment is approximately $20 million for the first year’s order of buses or $83 million for the first five years. With the delay in approvals and procurement, it is estimated that these costs could rise by twenty-five percent.

The procurement process requires that the 350 battery-electric buses would be subject to annual orders with approval by the Transit Commission and Council as part of the annual capital budget. The recommendations for the annual orders will be shaped by the continued development of battery-electric bus technology and the market availability of high-capacity and paratransit buses.

Currently, there are four electric buses being evaluated for their performance across the city on any given route and in all weather conditions.

(Councillor Glen Gower, Chair of the Transit Commission; appears with Mayor Mark Sutcliffe; President of the Treasury Board and MP for Ottawa-Vanier Mona Fortier; and Councillor Shawn Menard on January 19, 2023 at the announced funding $350 million in federal funding to contribute towards the purchase of 350 zero-emission buses and installation of the related charging infrastructure for Ottawa’s bus fleet. Photo: Chris Bricker, City of Ottawa)

We asked Councillor Gower if Stittsville routes have been travelled by the e-buses during the evaluation period. “The electric buses will be deployed all over the city on various routes. The four buses in operation now have been assigned to Stittsville routes from time to time since part of the testing process is evaluating how the buses do at different distances. One of the technical requirements in the procurement is that the buses can handle the distance on any of the bus routes in Ottawa over the course of a day,” the Councillor told us.

Knowing that the batteries are rigorous and allow for longer trips in various temperatures, we wanted to know about the charging stations and their locations. Would additional stations be required in our community?

Councillor Gower indicated what the existing plan is. “The charging stations will be at OC Transpo garages. They’d be plugged in when not in service and take about four hours to fully charge if memory serves.”

Gower added, “the electric buses have accumulated over 210,000 km within the city of Ottawa during all temperature conditions and, on average, are travelling the same distances as our diesel fleet.”

For reliability, a metric is used called “Mean Distance Between Failure” – basically the number of kilometres, on average, between pit stops in the garage: The E-Bus Mean Distance Between Failure (MDBF) was 12,422km in December and slightly above fleet wide average MDBF of 11,236km.”

It must be noted that a diesel auxiliary heating system will be used to extend the buses’ single-charge range on cold days.

Jeff Tindall, who is the coordinator of Let’s Bike Stittsville, provided his comments and thoughts to Stittsville Central on the zero-emission buses being proposed and the city’s traffic situation overall. “I love the concept of zero emission buses (ZEB) and hope to see the entire fleet of OC Transpo some day move away from fossil fuel transportation. We are currently facing a climate emergency and we can no longer continue to sit idle and leave it to the next generation. I suspect ZEBs, and more generally transit in Ottawa, will only be successful if OC Transpo addresses the current resource and service issues to ensure a reliable transit for residents; makes it attractive to use through reasonable fares and prioritizing transit over private vehicle use such as dedicated lanes to ensure it is a fast alternative.”

“More importantly, and probably more difficult to achieve, residents need to understand that traffic jams and delays cannot be fixed by road widening and the city needs to focus efforts to enhance a behavioral change from its residents to easily transition away from private vehicles to more sustainable modes of transportation, like walking, cycling and transit. I think transit is a great investment. We have developed a city that is very private vehicle dependent and changing that will require a fundamental shift in thinking both at the City and residential levels. Lets be honest, private vehicle has severe detriments to a city regardless if they are electric or not. The amount of space and money we dedicate to parking and roads is obscene. If there was an decent uptake in transit and active transportation use to eliminate the need for the average Stittsville home to own 2-3 vehicles, there would be a dramatic drop in traffic and areas currently that are developed for parking could be better used for housing or green space.”

Jeff ended with, “I haven’t had the opportunity to ride on an ZEB yet, but look forward to one day when I can. I also haven’t heard any feedback from others, however electric buses are used in other cities and towns across North America and I haven’t seen any major issues with them.”

The Zero-Emissions Buses for OC Transpo report was initally approved by Council on June 23, 2021. Pending funding availability (now received in 2023), the program could allow OC Transpo to achieve a fully zero-emission bus fleet by 2036. Converting OC Transpo’s bus fleet from diesel-powered vehicles to electric is a key component of the City of Ottawa’s Climate Change Master Plan, the City’s overarching framework to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and respond to the current and future effects of climate change.


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