The Great Green North: alternative propulsion transit in Canada

Introduction by Jeff Mackey, Public Policy Coordinator, CUTA

Many Canadians think that they are a step ahead of the United States when it comes to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and building a sustainable, green economy. After all, Canada is implementing a national carbon tax, it is still a signatory to the Paris Climate Accord, and its federal government continues to implement policies, like the Climate Lens assessment, that demonstrate its commitment to mitigating climate change.

However, when it comes to adopting low emission transportation options, Canada significantly lags behind its southern neighbour. In the U.S., 45 % of transit fleets are run on alternative propulsion, 30% of fleets run on Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), and 15% are electric. In Canada, under 2.0% of transit fleets run on alternative propulsion.

Even as new and exciting alternative propulsion transit demonstration projects take place across Canada, widespread adoption has been slow. Some say the U.S. has better government incentives for green procurement, or that the weather is more conducive to new technologies, or that U.S. transit systems are just less risk-averse than their Canadian counterparts.

No matter the cause, Canadian citizens want fleets powered by alternative propulsion systems that emit fewer emissions, are quieter and improve air quality in their communities. With this in mind, CUTA asked some of its members, who are working in the alternative propulsion sector in Canada, what they have to offer.

The results are fascinating. There are so many road-ready options available to Canadian transit systems looking to green their operations and, thanks to new federal and provincial funding, the time may be right for these systems to finally pull the trigger on green procurement.


By: Kevin Bamber, Director, St. Albert Transit

The City of St. Albert procured the first long-range battery powered electric transit buses in Canada. St. Albert Transit ran two electric bus trials in 2014 and 2015. The trials examined performance, reliability of the electrical systems, interior heating system, battery life and vehicle range. Following the trial, City Administration recommended the purchase of several electric buses.

The first three (3) buses were purchased from BYD Coach & Bus in 2016. They are 10.7m (35 ft) long (BYD model K9S), green on the outside and on the inside. The new environmentally friendly buses can travel up to 280 km, or about 10 hours on a single charge. The chargers are set up in the Dez Liggett Transit facility to accommodate off peak charging, with an average charge time of approximately 3 hours.

In May 2017, St. Albert unveiled the first three buses with Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Brian Mason, then Mayor Nolan Crouse, Members of St. Albert City Council, Spruce Grove-St Albert MLA Trevor Horne and other dignitaries that participated during a ceremony.

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PROTERRA: Cities Across Canada and the U.S. Pledge 100% Zero-Emission Bus Fleets

By, Eric McCarthy, SVP, Government Relations, Public Policy and Legal Affairs, Proterra

The United States was certainly an early leader in promoting advanced transportation technologies by implementing and funding the Low-No Program, which has helped deploy >200 electric buses in the United States since 2013. But Canadian metros may soon eclipse many American cities in ZEB adoption, especially now that the industry is well past the early adopter phase. Heavy-duty electric drivetrain technology for transit is commercially proven with millions of miles of revenue service. And the economic and environmental benefits are significant.

As a result, major Canadian metros are issuing RFPs for zero-emission buses. Toronto Transit Commission, the third largest transit agency in North America, plans to transition its entire fleet of 1,926 buses to zero-emission buses by 2040, and recently ordered 30 electric buses from three manufacturers. Edmonton Transit Service is finalizing its first purchase of BEBs and plans to buy only electric buses beginning in 2020. In October 2017 Vancouver joined eleven other major cities around the world in a pledge to only purchase electric buses beginning in 2025.  And the Société de transport de Montréal has a goal to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, which includes replacing its bus fleet.

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NEW FLYER INDUSTRIES: Powering Buses with Batteries

By: Chris Stoddart, David Warren & Lindy Norris

With increased focus on sustainability to protect the environment and preserve resources, the demand for zero-emission, battery-electric buses (BEBs) is rapidly increasing across North America. While California leads North America in deployments funded in part through “Cap and Trade” initiatives (a market based environmental regulation), Canadian deployments are expanding from east to west with major trials starting in Toronto and Vancouver.

As with any transformative technology, it’s useful to understand the basics of “How it Works” to fully appreciate and utilize the potential of battery-electric propulsion.  

The three main components of a battery are: an electrolyte, an anode, and a cathode. An electrolyte provides the flow of electrical charge between the cathode and anode. Batteries store energy (kWh), and when grouped together, become the vehicle’s Energy Storage System (ESS). Once a load, such as an electric motor, is connected to the battery terminals, a chemical reaction occurs to create a flow of electricity from the battery to the motor. 

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LETENDA: How Canada can catch up in implementing electric buses

By: Nicolas Letendre, President-Founder, Letenda Inc.

Canada is moving toward a future driven by clean energy. This is reflected in the growth in the number of sustainable transportation projects emerging across the country. However, the adoption of electric buses appears to be slower than in the United States.

An inspiring tender process

Canada's various levels of government have committed to promoting the integration of sustainable transportation by encouraging research and development. However, the process of implementing new technologies remains complex, if not non-existent.

Since the primary role of transit corporations is to provide service to users, they are understandably reluctant to take on R&D product testing. As some U.S. transit corporations have shown, encouraging field testing of new, high-potential sustainable transportation solutions has allowed them to address some of their operational issues. Their openness is even recognized for accelerating innovation.

According to the tendering process in place in Canada, transit corporations require available, market-proven buses. Bus manufacturers are forced to offer their existing products. This lack of openness hampers the adoption of innovative solutions.

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BALLARD POWER: The Other Electric Bus

By Nicolas Pocard – Director Marketing – Ballard Power Systems

Across the world, electric buses are providing a smooth and quiet passenger experience with zero emissions at the tailpipe. As governments and cities take the lead in placing increasingly strict regulations and restrictions on internal combustion engines, transit agencies and operators are looking at electric buses as the best option to transition their fleets to zero emissions, without affecting service levels.

There are several different electric bus technologies. The principal difference is in how the electricity is delivered to the motor: through overhead wires, through 100% battery power, or through a hybrid battery-fuel cell power train—called a fuel cell bus, a “hydrogen” bus, or the ‘Other Electric Bus’. 

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CLEAN ENERGY FUELS: Natural Gas Buses – A Cost, Operational and Environmental Alternative

By: Raleigh Gerber, Corporate Communications Manager

More Canadian cities are transitioning their public transportation fleets away from diesel-powered buses and opting for transit vehicles fueled by natural gas, a trend that is gaining momentum across North America and worldwide. This is due in part to government regulations that mandate a reduction in nitrogen oxide and greenhouse gas emissions that harm air quality, as well as a heightened sense of awareness about the health threats caused by local and toxic diesel particulate emissions.

Cities of all sizes are seeking market-ready alternatives that can provide operational, environmental, public health, and mobility benefits at an economic price point that they can afford.


BC Transit: Transit in Mid-Size Municipalities 

BC Transit serves urban regions outside of Metro Vancouver, operating in 130 communities and serving 51 million riders each year with a fleet of over 1,000 vehicles. It currently operates just under 50 CNG buses in Nanaimo, a similar number in Kamloops. and recently added 25 more in Whistler, BC. In 2019 BC Transit plans to introduce additional CNG buses in Abbotsford, BC.

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