Councillor proposes electric buses for London's bus rapid transit

London city councillor wants to electrify London's proposed bus rapid transit system with an eye to converting the city's entire fleet to electric vehicles in the future.

Councillor Jesse Helmer says the move could save the city thousands.

London city councillor, Jesse Helmer says electric buses will save the city hundreds of thousands on energy costs along with reducing emissions, and noise. (Kerry McKee/ CBC)

A London city councillor wants the city to be the first bus rapid transit (BRT) system to electrify its routes in Canada.

Jesse Helmer says electric buses will save the city hundreds of thousands on energy costs along with reducing emissions, and noise.

"Not only is it good for the environment but it is also going to save a lot of money," said Helmer, who was a guest on Friday on CBC Radio's Afternoon Drive. 

The plan stems from a presentation from the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), which promotes low-carbon and 'smart' transportation technologies. 

The agency did a very detailed analysis of the proposed BRT routes in London that looked at the length of each route, how hilly it is and whether the vehicles would be running in designated lanes. The evaluation found it would save $860,000 a year, according to Helmer, in comparison to running diesel buses. 

The electric buses would require high-powered, charging stations that could recharge a battery in a matter of minutes. 

"I've been on electric buses in other parts of the country where they're being tested," said Helmer. "They're a lot quieter to the point where you don't feel like you're riding on a bus honestly."

'We need to make transit better'

There are higher up front costs. The buses are more expensive and there is the cost of the charging stations. But, the operating costs would be lower, according to Helmer. He maintains the business case for BRT is stronger using electric buses versus diesel. 

"The municipality is the primary funder of the operations of transit, so we want to keep those operating costs as low as possible," said Helmer.

He also points out the city would buy the power from London Hydro, which is owned by the city. "It's a much better idea to buy the power from London Hydro. They would keep the distribution revenue from that."

BRT still needs funding from the federal government to move forward. Two hundred million dollars has been allocated for London transit but the approval for the project is still required. Construction could begin by 2020. 

"This is going to be the best possible BRT system we can build and if we electrify it, it's frankly going to be an example to the rest of North America about what you can do with BRT," said Helmer.