Ottawa Citizen: Transpo zaps bid for electric bus trial in Ottawa

By Jon Willing. Photo by Graham Hughes, The Canadian Press.

An electric bus pilot project won’t happen anytime soon at Ottawa’s public transit agency, even though Mayor Jim Watson called for a trial during his re-election campaign.

OC Transpo has its hands full with the LRT project, and while there are electric bus options in the market, the agency says there’s no point in

spending money on a pilot project when other trials are happening in North America.

The rationale supporting Transpo’s decision to recommend not running an electric-bus pilot project is included in written response to an inquiry filed last February by Coun. Catherine McKenney, who’s a transit commissioner.

“Conducting our own pilot project will simply replicate work and add costs with no added value,” Transpo writes in the response, citing projects underway in other regions.

Transpo says it’s also monitoring work by the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium on electric bus technology.

The buses would need to work well in Ottawa’s cold months and across a geographically large area.

But adding electric buses to the public transit system isn’t only about the buses themselves, Transpo warns.

A fleet of electric buses would require major infrastructure upgrades to Transpo garages to accommodate battery charging. There might even be a requirement for more bus-charging stations across the city, Transpo notes. On top of that, a special study would be required to make sure the bus-charging requirements don’t overwhelm the hydro infrastructure.

Electric buses don’t fit well into the current transit affordability plan, Transpo says.

A single battery-powered bus would cost about $900,000, where a similar diesel bus costs about $630,000, Transpo says. A single charging station could cost between $450,000 and $650,000.

There would need to be a lot of research and Transpo doesn’t have the resources. The agency says a good time to consider alternative buses might be in the mid-2020s during a scheduled fleet replacement.

Instead of running its own pilot project, Transpo is content to see what comes of tests in other cities.

Toronto, one of a handful of Canadian cities trying out electric buses, is adding dozens of electric buses to its transit fleet this year.

Last October, Watson released the environmental plank of his re-election platform, vowing to implement an electric bus pilot project in Ottawa.

Jim Watson✔@JimWatsonOttawa
 · Oct 3, 2018

Protecting the environment and greening our capital is a priority of mine. If re-elected, I commit to investing $3 M/year in energy retrofits to City facilities, plant 500,000 trees in the next term of Council and expand waste diversion. More info here: 

Jim Watson✔@JimWatsonOttawa

My commitment to the environment also includes building on our partnership with @hydroottawa, implement an electric bus pilot project in Ottawa and introduce a green bin pilot project in Ottawa Community Housing units, promote diversion programs for multi-residential buildings.

4:02 PM - Oct 3, 2018

Around the same time, Transpo showed off a demonstration 40-foot electric bus supplied by Nova Bus as the transit agency learned about options available in the market. (Watson had to pull out of his scheduled attendance at the event to avoid accusations of conflict of interest during the election campaign).

A spokeswoman for the mayor said Watson wants staff to watch the progress of electric bus developments in other cities.

“Mayor Watson remains committed to greening the OC Transpo bus fleet by transitioning to electric buses,” Livia Belcea said in an email.

“We are aware of electric bus pilot projects being conducted in a number of other Canadian municipalities. Mayor Watson has asked staff to continue to monitor their progress and assess how and when a successful rollout of electric buses could take place in Ottawa. In the meantime, our priority remains the launch of the O-Train Confederation Line, which will lead to the most important reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in the city’s history.”

According to the city’s calculations, Transpo’s fleet accounts for 44 per cent of the emissions produced by areas of the municipal government. LRT and the removal of diesel buses will result in a huge decrease in emissions, the city says.

Ecology Ottawa, Healthy Transportation Coalition and the Electric Vehicle Council of Ottawa organized a petition asking council to run an electric bus pilot project in 2020 and start introducing the buses to the fleet in 2021.

Robb Barnes, executive director of Ecology Ottawa, said it’s hard to reconcile Transpo’s decision on electric buses with council’s recent declaration of a climate emergency.

“It’s not a surprising reaction, but I think it’s unfortunate they’re not moving ahead (with an electric bus pilot) and I think it’s a bit of a shame,” Barnes said. “I think as a city we’re in a position where we need to be bold and ambitious on our climate action.”

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