London

Holder announces plans for zero-emission buses, but it's far from a sure thing

Mayor Ed Holder announced plans Wednesday to make London the first major city in Canada to have a zero-emissions public transit bus fleet but admitted it will be a long-term project that doesn't yet have a dedicated funding source.

Money could come from leftover BRT cash, but it would need support of council, senior governments

London Mayor Ed Holder speaks to reporters after delivering his annual State of The City address Wednesday at RBC Place. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Mayor Ed Holder announced plans Wednesday to make London the first major city in Canada to have a zero-emissions public transit bus fleet but admitted it will be a long-term project that doesn't yet have a dedicated funding source. 

Holder made the announcement during his annual State of the City speech in front of a sold-out crowd of 1,400 people at the RBC Place, London's convention centre. 

Holder said moving London Transit's fleet of 215 diesel buses to electric power will reduce emissions and save the city more than $7-million in annual fuel costs.

"We're burning millions on fuel while causing harm to our environment in the process," said Holder.

Holder said he intends to "move quickly on this" and will bring a report to the London Transit Commission (LTC) within a week to determine the best way to move forward with the plan. 

After the speech, Holder told reporters that money for the buses — there's no price tag yet — could come from the more than $100 million left over when council opted in the spring to proceed with only three of the five proposed legs of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan.

London Mayor Ed Holder announced plans Wednesday to make London the first major city in Canada to have a zero-emission public transit fleet. (Paula Duhatschek/CBC)

"The question today is 'Where does the funding come from?'" said Holder. "In large part from senior levels of government. Frankly, those commitments have not yet been made from them, but that's my job." 

The electric bus idea also hasn't come to council, and three councillors have already brought a motion asking city staff to pursue options for "higher order" transit in the west end, an area of high growth and increasing traffic.

Holder said Wednesday that electrifying the fleet and considering other transit options for the west end are "two different issues." 

Holder said the electric buses could be acquired over a 10-year period as the diesel buses reach the end of their service life. 

Mayor's key focus remains jobs

During his speech Holder highlighted what he sees as London's success over the past year. 

He said job creation remains his top focus, followed by transportation and helping the city's most vulnerable. 

On the jobs front, Holder said the city has added 7,700 net new jobs, pointing to the success of the new website LondonJobsNow.ca which has had 1,000 unique visitors every month since launching in June. 

He pointed out that more jobs will come when Maple Leaf Foods opens next year (1,500 jobs) and the new Gateway Casinos location in southwest London (700 jobs). 

Helping London's less fortunate

Mayor Ed Holder said he expects Carepoint, London's supervised drug consumption site, will be able to move into its proposed permanent location at 446 York St. by the end of the year. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Holder touted the creation of a Housing Stability Action Plan and the Core Area Action Plan to address problems of homelessness in a city where about 200 people sleep on the streets each night. 

And while those measures come at a high cost, Holder said both are necessary. 

"We cannot afford inaction because the cost of that, both financially and morally, far outweighs the cost of what's being proposed," he said.

Holder also pointed to Carepoint, the new name of the city's supervised consumption site, as a key part of the city's response to problems linked to addiction and drug use. 

He said since Carepoint opened in a temporary location at 186 King St., it's handled more than 2,000 referrals to health care supports and other social services. 

"Carepoint doesn't just save money, it saves lives," he said. 

Holder also said he expects Carepoint's planned permanent location at 446 York St. will open this year. In November, a decision by the province's Land Planning Appeal Tribunal cleared the way for the permanent site to go ahead, pending another possible appeal. 

Holder said Wednesday he's optimistic the province will back the location and provide permanent funding, after health ministry officials originally supported making the King Street site permanent. 

Praise for Woodman Avenue explosion response

During his State of the City speech, Mayor Ed Holder praised the city's response to the Aug. 14 explosion on Woodman Avenue. 'There was no loss of life, only a community brought to life,' he said. (Supplied by Const. Rebecca Elliott)

Holder also praised how the city responded to the Aug. 14 explosion on Woodman Avenue in East London which led to the evacuation of about 100 homes.

He gave first responders and city services high marks for their response, but also said stories of neighbours helping neighbours was inspiring. 

"There was no loss of life, only a community brought to life," he said. "There were countless stories of heroism, kindness and compassion. Neighbours helping neighbours, and total strangers assisting those in need." 

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Andrew Lupton is a B.C.-born journalist, father of two and a north London resident with a passion for politics, photography and baseball.

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