British Columbia

Battery-powered buses could be coming to Metro Vancouver

A Metro Vancouver committee approved almost $7 million Wednesday to buy four battery-powered electric buses and two charging systems to join TransLink’s fleet as part of a pilot program.

'The world is starting to move toward battery-powered vehicles,' says TransLink CEO

A driver charges an electric bus in Lin'an City in China. A pilot program could see TransLink get four electric battery-powered buses for a pilot program. (The Associated Press)

A plan to test electric battery-powered buses on Metro Vancouver streets started to roll Wednesday afternoon.

A Metro Vancouver committee approved almost $7 million to buy four electric buses and two charging systems to join TransLink's fleet as part of a pilot program over the next two, to two-and-a-half years.

TransLink already has electric buses in its fleet, but the battery-powered buses would not rely on overhead wires.

"The [transportation] industry and the world is starting to move toward battery-powered vehicles, and battery-powered buses are becoming common," TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond said.

"This is a demonstrated technology throughout the world and we need to figure out how it can apply to our bus network here."

Desmond expects the buses will travel TransLink's 100 route, which connects Marpole Loop in Vancouver to 22nd Street Station in New Westminster. A fast-charging station will be installed at each end.

Can handle winter

The pilot project is to be carried out alongside similar ones in York Region and Brampton in Ontario.

The three projects are coordinated by the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), a green transportation group, to test the feasibility of battery-powered buses in Canada.

The consortium is expected to provide some of the funding for the buses, but an agreement needs to be finalized.

"What we want to test is the technology, the equipment, the charging stations, how long the battery lasts," Desmond said.

Desmond expressed confidence in the electric buses' ability to handle winter conditions, which proved a challenge during the recent harsh winter in B.C's Lower Mainland.

"They have more torque than diesel or [compressed natural gas] buses," he said.

A bus stuck in the snow during the winter of 2016-2017. Diesel buses, especially longer, articulated buses, can struggle in Lower Mainland winters. (Jacques Dufresne/CBC)

Needs final vote

The cost of electric buses remains uncertain, Desmond says.

The lack of fuel lines and hydraulics may result in lower maintenance costs, he said, not to mention the use of electricity instead of fossil fuels. However, the cost of the batteries is quite high although dropping.

The $7 million for the electric buses approved Wednesday is part of a proposed $121 million in new transit spending for the 10-year transit expansion plan approved in November 2016.

In addition to the electric buses, the $121 million spending proposal covers 105 new diesel-hybrid buses, 25 gasoline vehicles and equipment upgrades on 99 older buses.

A final vote by the Metro Vancouver board on the $121 million package will take place April 28.

The electric buses are expected to hit the road sometime in 2018.