Electric buses return to Winnipeg streets after 49 years

Electric transit has returned to Winnipeg for the first time since the city's trolley car rolled into history in 1965.
The new electric bus was put on display for media and politicians Friday in Winnipeg. (CBC)

Electric transit has returned to Winnipeg for the first time since the city's trolley car rolled into history in 1965.

The first made-in-Manitoba electric transit bus, along with a new rapid-battery charging system, was showcased to politicians and the media on Friday.

The charging system for the electric bus takes four minutes to restore the energy depleted in one hour of use, or it can fully charge the bus in 20 minutes. (CBC)
"The return of electrically-powered public transportation to the streets of Winnipeg is an exciting development for Manitobans and Manitoba Hydro," said Scott Thomson, president and CEO of Manitoba Hydro, which helped develop a charging system that can fully charge the bus in under 20 minutes or replenish the energy used during one hour of operation in less than four minutes.

Transit history

  • On January 28, 1891 at 7:30pm on the Park line near Osborne and Jubilee, the first electric car was tested. They began running in regular service in the summer of 1892.
  • The last all wood electric car was built in August of 1914.
  • On May 1, 1918 the first gasoline powered bus operated in Winnipeg.
  • September 18, 1955 was the last day street cars ran in Winnipeg.
  • Electric trolleys started to get replaced by diesel buses in 1965 and service was expanded into new areas. The transit service began to remove electric overhead lines.
  • The last electric trolley coach in Winnipeg ran on Oct. 30, 1970.

SOURCE: Winnipeg Transit

"At Manitoba Hydro, we have to ensure that our electrical-distribution system will be able to economically and safely handle the impacts of more electrical vehicles. This new bus is helping us assess that impact," Thomson said.

The prototype electric bus was developed through a partnership between the Manitoba government, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), New Flyer Industries, Manitoba Hydro and Red River College (RRC).

The vehicle has been tested extensively by the partners and passed "the real-world test of operating in Winnipeg winter conditions," stated a news release from the provincial government.

"We are extremely proud of this partnership and the technology that resulted in this truly innovative electric bus," said Municipal Government Minister Stan Struthers.

"Testing a new unique on-route rapid charging system, which is the first in Canada, and moving the electric bus into regular service is a tremendous step forward for clean, green technology that is already catching the eye of various North American transit authorities. Reducing our dependence on fossil fuels is good for the environment, our health and business."

We’ve Had It! The last street cars bid a tearful goodbye to Winnipeggers on their final run along Portage Avenue, September 1955, while crowds look on. Electric trolley buses continued to operate in the city until diesel buses took over in 1965. (Archives of Manitoba/Manitoba Historical Society)
Red River College instructors were involved in the assembly of the electric-bus battery and the system that connects it to the bus. The charging system is activated when the bus drives up and a bar on top of the bus automatically lifts to connect to the charger.

"Red River College has a history of innovating, promoting and performing applied research in the sustainable transportation sector.  We are a leader in applied research in this country and we are proud that we could offer our deep technical expertise to this project," said RRC president Stephanie Forsyth.

The province, MHI, and Manitoba Hydro each contributed $1 million toward developing the prototype.

In partnership with the City of Winnipeg, four more electric buses are being produced that will be added to Winnipeg Transit's fleet and used on regular transit routes. The prototype bus will remain on loan to Winnipeg Transit until all four new electric buses have completed the testing phase.


Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.