Winnipeg Transit wants to know cost of buying up to 20 electric buses

Winnipeg is taking baby steps toward buying electric buses, but there's still no money available for the task.

Estimate for 'test fleet' a baby step toward electrification; No source of funding yet known

Winnipeg wants to purchase a test fleet of 12 to 20 electric buses. It first needs to know what that would cost. (Teghan Beaudette/CBC)

Winnipeg is taking baby steps toward buying electric buses, but there's still no money available for the task.

On Tuesday, city council's public works committee will consider a request to come up with a cost estimate for the purchase of 12 to 20 electric buses as well as the infrastructure required to charge the vehicles.

The electric buses would be tested to see how well they perform. The city's intention is to eventually replace all of its existing diesel buses with electric vehicles.

"Once the test fleet of 12-20 electric buses has been in operation, and their cost and benefits are more fully understood and realized, Winnipeg Transit could begin to purchase electric buses as part of its bus replacement program, adding 20-30 electric buses to its fleet each year, as diesel buses are gradually retired from service," Winnipeg Transit service-development manager Bjorn Radstrom writes in a report.

A previous city test of five electric buses was not sufficient because the technology used on those vehicles is now obsolete.

The new "test fleet" will test new charging technology and could also involve hydrogen fuel-cell technology and buses that run on compressed natural gas. While natural gas buses do produce greenhouse-gas emissions, they are cleaner than diesel buses, Radstrom states.

The report states up to 40 per cent of the cost of the new vehicles could come from Ottawa under environmental funding programs.

Even if the city replaces all of its diesel buses with electric vehicles, the net effect on the city's greenhouse-gas emissions would be small.

According to the city, only 0.8 per cent of all of Winnipeg's greenhouse-gas emissions come from Winnipeg Transit.

Personal motor vehicles, meanwhile, generate 32.1 per cent of the city's greenhouse gas emissions, while another 17.6 per cent come from commercial vehicles.

In order to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions, some Canadian jurisdictions are focusing on improving transit service to the point where commuters get out of their cars and take buses.

In Winnipeg, Transit has struggled to maintain existing service levels while riders complain about overcrowding. The province, meanwhile, has frozen transit funding at 2016 levels, requiring Winnipeg to cover inflationary cost increases related to fuel prices and labour costs.