Last week, InBrampton reported that Brampton Transit’s bus fleet was getting a much needed upgrade in the form of electric buses. The city approved purchasing up to 10 battery-electric buses and four high-powered on-street electric charging stations. They are slated to start rolling on Brampton streets sometime in 2018.
While this is all well and good, it’s interesting to note that electric buses (or electric public transit vehicles) are not a revolutionarily new idea. In fact, a number of other cities around the world have either explored the idea of manufacturing and using electric buses, or have been using electric buses for years. While not all of these other places have successfully rolled out electric buses on their streets, they managed to do it earlier and most likely provided Brampton the best practice examples the city learned from.
Let’s take a look at some of those other places that put electric buses into the public transit conversation or into their public transit mix before Canada’s ninth largest city did.
Perhaps Brampton can learn from their successes (and their mistakes).
Windsor has traditionally been a hotspot for jobs in the auto industry. The nature of the auto industry has certainly changed in the last few years, but Windsor still has that economic base that makes vehicle manufacturing possible.
Originally In 2012, the Chinese manufacturer BYD signed an agreement with Windsor to manufacture electric buses in the southern Ontario city. However, Windsor then had to go into discussions with South Carolina based Proterra a year later after it became clear that BYD, which had been in talks with Windsor for more than a year, failed to meet agreed upon deadlines to have its electric bus certified for Canadian streets.
As of this writing, Proterra’s buses have not been confirmed to have passed the testing phase, but hey–at least Windsor is trying. Brampton may actually have a bit of a one-up here.
For projects like this, it’s always good to have partners. Brampton partnered with several private companies for their new electric bus fleet, and Quebec City was able to tap into their province’s Green Fund for their partnership with private companies. Some $8.6 million will go to five companies (Autobus Lion, TM4, AddEnergie Technologies, Solution Adetel and Alcoa) working on electrifying heavy vehicles. Judging that it’s not enough to have electric cars on city streets and highways, the province is helping fund the development of electric buses and trucks as well.
San Fran isn’t just known for its iconic cable car system; the city also boasts an impressive fleet of trolley buses. According to the San Francisco Municipal Transit Agency, trolley buses are rubber tired vehicles with motors powered by electricity from overhead wires (Vancouver BC has some of these too). Although their operations are less flexible than that of motor buses, trolley coaches are more energy efficient, much quieter and much less polluting. They operate better on hills, require less maintenance and are longer lasting than motor buses.
Modern trolley coaches have an auxiliary power unit (APU), which allows the buses to travel off-wire for several blocks and avoid anything blocking their normal route, such as an excavation in the street or a street fair.
San Francisco has the largest trolley coach fleet of any transit agency in the U.S. and Canada. San Francisco’s trolley coaches (as well as its streetcars and the cable motors for the cable cars) are almost entirely pollution-free, since their electric power comes from San Francisco’s hydroelectric Hetch Hetchy Water & Power Project.
For many people, the quietness of the coaches and the cleaner service outweighs the unsightliness of the overhead wires necessary for their operation. If anti LRT Brampton residents were mad enough about running tracks along Main Street, imagine how they would react if they strung electrical wires above their heads for transit buses.
Going beyond the North America, we see that some cities in Russia have advanced in the area of electrifying bus fleets before Brampton as well. Chelyabinsk, a Russian city of approximately 1.5 million, run trolley buses similar to San Francisco (see above photo) for years. But as of 2011 Chelyabinsk introduced buses operating on standalone batteries as well.
As the City Manager for Chelyabinsk, Sergei Davydov, was quoted saying, “In Russia we began to produce trolley buses, which operated not only on the contact line, but also on the new battery, making this form of public transport mobile”, pointing out the imperfections of trolley bus transport.
“The current trolley buses are very inconvenient fact that, having got stuck in traffic or finding themselves in a situation where the accident occurred, cannot drive around this area”, said Davydov, calling the trolley one of the main causes of traffic jams.
Modern electro-buses are able to travel without recharging of about 100 kilometers. Such transport is used in Novosibirsk and other cities in Russia, concluded Davydov. I know these days the west have a tendency to look at Russia with some suspicion. But Vladimir Putin aside, Russia seems to have taken an early lead in using this technology.
Finally, in a place where it seems a plethora of good ideas on urban sustainability have come to life, the Netherlands also has many electric buses driving around that country. The island of Schiermonnikoog is serviced by six all-electric BYD buses, while in the city of Eindhoven, the bus company Hermes started running 43 electric buses in December 2016 with more slated to come in 2017. Another company, Arriva, started running 16 electric buses on Vlieland, Ameland and Schiermonnikoog, and several more in Limburg. Utrecht already had electric buses on route 2, and trolley buses have been operating for decades in the city of Arnhem.
These are just some examples. For a more complete list of other jurisdictions that are already using electric buses, see here.
So congratulations Brampton. You might have taken some time introducing a technology that seemed like a no-brainer, but at least you’ve now caught up to a good chunk of the rest of the world. Now if you could perhaps convince Elon Musk to create your new electric bus fleet, you might just blow these other cities away.