News / Toronto

TTC plans to buy first electric buses, wants emissions-free fleet by 2040

Report going before the TTC’s board on Monday recommends buying 30 battery electric buses by 2019, at a cost of up to $50 million.

An electric bus from American company Proterra.

PROTERRA

An electric bus from American company Proterra.

For the first time in its history the TTC is planning to buy buses powered exclusively by on-board electric batteries, marking an important step forward for the transit agency’s plans to green its fleet by 2040.

report going before the TTC’s board on Monday recommends purchasing 30 so-called “battery electric buses” by 2019, which would position the agency at the forefront of introducing the emissions-free vehicles into regular service in Canada.

Bem Case, head of vehicle programs for the TTC, said as the country’s largest municipal transit agency, “we see that we should be taking more of a leadership role in the introduction of new technology.”

The initial electric bus purchase, which would cost up to $50 million, is “not a test,” Case said.

“It’s the first step in the adoption of this technology … We’re buying these buses, so we’re committed to making them work.”

The report recommends dividing the order for 30 buses between up to three different suppliers. That would allow the agency to conduct what it says would be the first long-term, head-to-head comparison of different electric bus models.

The TTC would measure each vehicle’s reliability, battery range, operating and maintenance costs, and customer experience in order to inform future, larger purchases. The exercise also would help other transit agencies hoping to adopt the technology.

Toronto’s TransformTO climate change action plan, which council passed in July, sets a target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent compared to 1990 levels by 2050. In order to achieve that goal, the TTC has endorsed the C40 Fossil-Fuel-Free Streets declaration, under which the agency plans to start exclusively purchasing emissions-free buses by 2025. By 2040 the TTC plans to have phased out its older vehicles and have a completely emissions-free fleet.

The agency is also looking into buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells as an option, but according to the report the technology isn’t mature enough to adopt yet.

Gideon Forman, transportation policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, said the TTC’s green bus plan is “hugely important” to meeting the city’s climate change targets.

“Don’t forget that the single largest source of greenhouse gases in Ontario now is transportation,” he said. “So the TTC’s contribution is vital.”

There are just 195 buses battery electric buses in service across North America, according to the TTC report, and only about 10 in all of Canada. Montreal, Winnipeg, and St. Albert, Atla., are experimenting with the technology.

The TTC has deployed electric bus technology before, including trolley buses, which were decommissioned in the 1990s.

Its efforts at early adoption of green vehicles haven’t always gone smoothly, however. In 2006 the TTC began to buy hundreds of diesel electric hybrid buses, which have electric motors partially powered by diesel generators.

The vehicles were initially plagued by electrical failures, motor faults, and shortages of replacement parts. The agency says it’s since rectified most of the problems, however, and they now make up more than one-third of its fleet of about 2,000 buses. The rest are conventional diesel or “clean diesel” vehicles.

The agency acknowledges there are “inherent risks” to buying battery electric buses. At a cost of at least $1 million each, their upfront costs are also much greater than conventional diesel buses, which sell for about $700,000.

But Case said the operational risks will be mitigated by the fact that the TTC is making a small initial purchase. And the financial burden would be shared by the federal government, as the agency is planning to tap into Ottawa’s public transit infrastructure fund for 50 per cent of the cost. Because battery electric buses have fewer mechanical parts than traditional diesel vehicles, long-term maintenance costs could also be lower.

Current models of battery electric buses have an estimated range of 250 kilometres before they require recharging, which would limit their deployment to half of the TTC’s bus routes. The vehicles would be powered up overnight using chargers in bus depots.

Case said the TTC plans to rotate them through routes with high passenger volumes and steep inclines in order to “put them through their paces.”

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