Sun. Apr 21st, 2024

13&nbsp ;G$ for the electrification of buses: Guilbault hopes to lower the bill

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The Capital Transport Network has been testing electric buses on its routes since January. (Archive photo)

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One year before an important deadline, the Minister of Transport and Sustainable Mobility, Geneviève Guilbault, is not yet able to comment on how much the urban bus electrification project could cost in total or in part. , but she believes that it could be possible to lower certain bills.

Starting next year, the Quebec government will only subsidize the purchase of electric buses. So far, only $5 billion has been announced in 2021 for the entire project.

The main transportation companies in Quebec estimate this cost at more than 13 billion, according to their various ten-year investment plans. However, Geneviève Guilbault says that she cannot use their estimates.

The minister had to defend, among other things, this project in front of opposition deputies during a provisional appropriations study session on the 2024 budget -2025 from the government of Quebec, Wednesday afternoon.

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The study of provisional appropriations serves to examine the appropriations which must be submitted to the Assembly before the start of the new financial year and before the adoption of the annual expenditure budget to ensure the functioning of the State. This was the first time that the Ministry of Transport was invited to participate in this type of session.

For the moment, transport companies estimate that this infrastructure will cost 9.5 billion. The minister admits that garages are expensive and that the target of electrifying 55% of urban buses by 2030 is ambitious.

She still hopes to be able to lower certain bills, sometimes by going back to the drawing board altogether.

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We are in the process of seeing with [transport companies] how we can optimize. Can we share services? Can we have projects different from what we initially planned that could cost less?, she asks. Those who are not necessarily very advanced at this stage, we see how we can make them so that they cost as little as possible.

Liberal MP Monsef Derraji, spokesperson for the official opposition on transport, wonders if Quebec has the means to achieve its ambitions. Most transport companies are already raising a red flag, they don't have the means. It's debt. Subsequently, who will pay this debt? It will be the cities and citizens who will have to foot the bill, he worries.

The quantity of answers that the minister was able to provide on electrification remained low. She often had to repeat that most of the redevelopment projects and the construction of garages capable of accommodating these new vehicles were not far enough advanced to decide on the amounts.

When you sign a contract, there is a figure to put on the table, but garages are an evolving project, says Minister Geneviève Guilbault. According to her, the only contract that has been signed is the 2.1 billion contract awarded to Novabus for the acquisition of 1,229 electric buses.

Moreover, if the projects are so little advanced, Monsef Derraji also wonders if transport companies will have the necessary infrastructure for the arrival of the first electric buses in 2025.

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Liberal MP for Nelligan, Monsef Derraji (Archive photo).

To remedy this, certain transport companies could be prioritized in the delivery and adaptation of their infrastructure. What we do is that we prioritize, we work with the transport companies, they will not receive all the buses at the same time, so we see where we need to do what project, answers Geneviève Guilbault.

Despite these challenges, she reiterates that the deadlines are retained, even if certain people, including the mayor of Quebec Bruno Marchand, want deadlines to be added to reduce the financial pressure on transport companies and, by extension, cities. .

Solidarity deputy Étienne Grandmont, spokesperson for his training in transport, also questioned Geneviève Guilbault on electrification. In particular, he wanted to know more about the effectiveness of the measure in terms of reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

He wonders what impact the electrification of Quebec's 5,000 urban buses will have on emissions. Anything that we can electrify in transport is a good thing to reduce our GHGs, maintains the minister.

If it’s going to cost $13 billion over the next ten years, shouldn’t we delay the electrification of public transportation. The priority should instead be to bring people back into public transport, with an increase in supply, more buses, trams, metros and frequency, relaunches the MP.

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Étienne Grandmont, solidarity MP for Taschereau, during a question period on the provincial budget.

I think that both elements are priorities: reducing our GHGs by electrifying transport and attracting more people to public transport, that's why alongside the major investments we are making in electrification, we have never invested so much in public transport, replies Geneviève Guilbault.

The minister recalls that 82% of investments in public transport are made as a bonus. Several infrastructure projects involving electrification are still part of the Quebec infrastructure plan (PQI) 2024-2034, and by the minister's own admission, electrification does not involve 'service improvement.

There is a difference between electrifying and modulating the public transport offer to attract more ridership, there is not necessarily a causal link, she indicates.

Four garage projects to accommodate electric buses are in the implementation phase, two for the Société de transport de Montréal, one for the Société de transport de Laval and one for the Longueuil transport network. In total, these projects account for 980 million of the $2.8 billion planned for projects in progress at the PQI.

Next, 11 of the 20 projects in public transport which are in the planning phase at the PQI involve electrification. The total amount of investments planned for projects in this phase reaches $7.7 billion, but the amounts per project are not broken down until reaching the implementation stage.

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