Add up to 20 electric buses to Winnipeg Transit fleet, report recommends

Winnipeg Transit should add at least a dozen electric buses as the next step towards electrifying its entire fleet, a joint report from the province and the City of Winnipeg recommends.

Report completed in July 2016 but not released until March 2018

Winnipeg Transit has four zero-emission, battery-electric buses in its fleet. The union that represents transit's drivers has suggested a $7-million interest-free loan it says would help transit add 20 more electric buses. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Winnipeg Transit should add at least a dozen electric buses as the next step toward electrifying its entire fleet, a joint report from the province and the City of Winnipeg recommends.

The report says Winnipeg Transit should deploy between 12 and 20 electric buses — between two and three per cent of its total fleet — rather than purchasing new diesel buses.

A deployment on that scale, the report says, would yield enough information to plan for further integration of electric buses into the system, learn about the technology, and identify any risk factors.

The report also identifies a number of challenges to electrifying Winnipeg Transit's fleet, from the high upfront costs of purchasing the new buses and chargers, to redesigning the transit system to suit the new technology.

"The biggest hurdle is not the electric technology in individual buses. Rather, it is the challenge of how to transform an old system, designed around diesel, to a new system of planning, operation and maintenance, based on new electric bus and charging technologies," the report says.

Diesel buses can operate up to 22 hours a day and easily switch between routes. Electric buses need to be recharged, meaning they can't be redeployed within the system as easily as diesel buses.

"This feature is a cornerstone of existing transit system planning and operation, and must be assessed in greater detail to better understand the implications of using electric buses, with different operating characteristics," the report says.

The Manitoba government and City of Winnipeg Joint Task Force was created in 2015 to investigate the viability of an electric bus fleet. Representatives with Manitoba Hydro, bus manufacturer New Flyer and Red River College were also involved in the task force.

Electric buses introduced in 2014

The city first started experimenting with electric buses in 2014 when Transit introduced one to shuttle Manitoba Hydro employees between their headquarters at 360 Portage Ave. and 820 Taylor Ave. That same year, four electric buses were added to Route 20.

Given this experience, the report says "Winnipeg represents a good site to begin the paradigm shift" toward electric transit.

Sustainable Development Minister Rochelle Squires said she's talking with the federal government about making electric buses an integral part of Winnipeg Transit, including possibly using some of the $67 million available to Manitoba through the Low-Carbon Economy Fund.

"We're looking to be a partner on several initiatives with the federal government and the municipal, municipalities as we transition to the low carbon future," she said.

The report is dated July 2016. When asked why it wasn't released until now, Squires said the province didn't want "preclude the outcome of our consultations" with Manitobans on their priorities for dealing with climate change.

"We certainly do see the value in helping Transit reduce its carbon footprint. We know that transportation in general is a huge emitter in our province and in order for us to reduce our overall carbon emissions we certainly must work with transportation," she said.

New taxes, falling prices offset high cost

The task force considered two possible scenarios for implementing the next phase of transit electrification. One scenario had the buses added to "peak-use" routes which only run during busy times on specific routes, while the other had buses running on "high-use" routes which are dispatched all day.

The report recommended the "peak-use" scenario, because of simplified recharging processes and easier integration into the existing fleet.

Under that scenario, the report estimates that the total capital cost for electric buses and all charging equipment would be about $5.9 million, or roughly $490,000 per bus, more expensive than diesel buses over the next 12 years.

The cost gap would be even higher on the "high-use" routes because of the need for more rapid chargers.

However, the report says these additional costs can be offset through capital cost reductions of 12 to 16 per cent. It also says the present short-term cost advantage of diesel will be mitigated by in introduction of new carbon taxes and the falling price of batteries.

"Electric buses are essentially at the cusp of readiness. Their already lower operating costs (fuel and maintenance), combined with anticipated future capital cost reductions, suggest the longer-term advantage is toward electric buses," the report concludes.

Once the new electric buses have been integrated into the system, the report says the next step will be to deploy a larger number — between 120 and 200 electric buses, or 20 to 30 per cent of the total fleet. The final phase would be to electrify the entire fleet.

About the Author

Cameron MacLean

Web Writer

Cameron MacLean is a journalist living in Winnipeg, Man. where he was born and raised. He has more than a decade of experience covering news in the city and across the province, working in print, radio, television and online.

With files from Sean Kavanagh