E-buses Coming to Ottawa

On June 23rd, we took an essential step towards meeting the City’s Green House Gas Emission (GHG) reduction targets.  

The City has the objective to reduce by 50 per cent 2030 its GHGs. A significant component of that relates to the electrification of transportation, including vehicle and transit. The e-buses purchasing plan is a vital step to meet the climate resiliency by approving the purchase of 450 buses by 2027, 74 of which are to arrive in 2023.

The program brought to Council is based on a $350 million grant from the Canadian Infrastructure Bank and other Federal government funding programs. It allows to cover the purchase of new electric buses and set up the needed infrastructure shift to facilitate a successful transition to the electrification of the bus fleet.

The current plan will be for the buses to be powered through charging units at the City bus garage, including the St Laurent garage. The federal investments have unlocked the transformation and have permitted to advance partnerships, including the important one to supply the much-needed electric power needs with Hydro Ottawa.

This approval is a step forward for the City’s plan to reduce carbon emissions by 100% by 2040 following the 2020 Council-approved Climate Change Masterplan. Climate change has already had significant impacts on residents. It has already added increased risks and costs for the City of Ottawa, including floods, tornadoes, an increase in freeze/thaw cycles, etc. Critical areas in the Masterplan include adding a climate lens to all City plans, documents and operations. This provides for the electrification of public transportation, energy retrofits to an existing building and building standard goals of net-zero, improving waste management practices, and educating our communities to encourage positive action. The City’s current plan to reduce operational GHG emissions by 100% is 2040, while the City’s goal for the community is 2050.

OC Transpo presented their approximate cost-share for 450 zero-emission buses until 2027. The total cost for the implementation of electric buses includes charging infrastructure and transition costs. The total cost, including the buses, is $986M. Infrastructure Canada will provide up to $493M in funding. The Canadian Infrastructure Bank will loan the City up to $400M, leaving the City to cover as low as $93M from capital funding. 

According to the report prepared for Council, each bus will cost $1.3M for the first five years during the transition process. Each bus is anticipated to have a longer service life, and maintenance costs will be roughly 35 per cent lower than maintaining a diesel bus. To meet the lifecycle requirements and demand for buses in operation on the City’s network, the chart below shows the number of buses needed and the delivery schedule for the zero-emission vehicles.

As this is a significant investment by the City, there are several risks. This includes financial debt, unaccounted for costs, rapid innovations and technology becoming outdated. Practically speaking, risks could also have technical gaps and failures or prolonged electrical power supply interruptions.

The plan does look at many elements, which include a spectrum of risk. The identified risk must be considered and planned to ensure the intended transformation to an electric bus fleet will reflect the objectives established by the City, including a reduction of GHG, increased ridership, service reliability, and accessibility.

Our City will benefit from reduced carbon emissions, reduced capital costs, and quieter bus operations through this technology change.

The benefits of these investments are far-ranging.  Transit users will benefit from using newer and more quieter buses, which should also improve transit experience and bus reliability.  Residents of Ottawa can be proud to expand the electrification network.  It is expected that pride in the transit system will grow with the expansion of the LRT to most communities in Ottawa and substantial investments like transforming an e-bus fleet.  With the help of the federal program, this investment makes financial sense to absorb increased costs of purchase of new buses and protect residents of Ottawa from the higher purchasing price for the models.  There are many benefits, two of which are cleaner air and quieter streets.  Heavy vehicles like buses to have significant noise impacts along main streets and residential areas all linked the old combustion motors on existing buses which is called to disappear with these e-buses purchases.

Council members, including me, had many questions for finance and the OC Transpo team relating to this critical report.  Here are some of the questions that we have raised following engagement from residents on this report:

  • How can we ensure that electricity costs are manageable for decades to come to meet the financial benefits of the shift to buses?
  •  Will Hydro Ottawa provide volume discounts?
  • What assumptions has Oc Transpo made regarding maintenance, staff training and successful conversion of the operations to an electric bus fleet?
  •  What winter assurance do we have planned for the ebuses?
  • How is risk mitigated to ensure buses meet the 15-year life of the vehicle?
  • How is procurement set to ensure that technology upgrades allow for proper integration to the ebus fleet purchases (new technology, expanding battery life, faster charging) to ensure continued progress.

There were many questions at Transit Commission and Council.  City Council unanimously approved the $1B purchase of 450 electric buses with the necessary support from the Infrastructure Banks and other federal government programs.  This is a generation investment for transit in Ottawa.  It is a once-in-a-lifetime technology shift, that will shape our future to better transit and a greener Capital City.

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