Sun. Feb 25th, 2024

The bold electrification of Canada's largest carrier

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The charging systems are part of a project that received five million dollars from the City.

  • Mouaad El Yaakabi (Consult the profile)Mouaad El Yaakabi

It's a gentle green revolution taking place at the Toronto Transit Commission (TCT) and which should lead it towards a completely carbon neutral bus fleet.

This transformation began in 2017 with the purchase of 60 vehicles as part of a pilot project.

It's a timid first step from a cautious management: We were burned before the adoption of new technologies, and that created resistance to this kind of innovation, recalls Bem Case, the executive director of innovation and sustainable development.

The market at the time was so modest that the only three manufacturers present on the Canadian market were invited to collaborate directly with the carrier in the development of initial specifications.

This trial run allows the CTT to get a better idea of ​​a technology that is still young and perfectible, and to draw up a sketch of the future generation of electric buses that it would like to see plying the streets of the City. Queen.

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It wasn't just a question of whether the battery worked, says Bem Case, we took the opportunity to test a whole bunch of other things besides propulsion, like different door systems, steering and suspension systems, different handles.

The CTT even goes so far as to test different seating arrangements.

To complete the evaluation of vehicle performance and maintenance, drivers are asked to give their feedback, and surveys are carried out among passengers to gauge the client experience. We could therefore evaluate technically and subjectively what worked best, summarizes Bem Case.

Like the city of Edmonton, the CTT experienced problems with one of the suppliers, Proterra. The capital of Alberta had also acquired around sixty buses, all from the American supplier, and experienced bad luck, including difficulties linked to battery life and the lack of spare parts.

Proterra eventually declared bankruptcy.

Thousands of miles later and thanks to $700 million in federal and municipal financial support, the CTT placed an order for 340 new electric buses last April, with delivery scheduled for 2025.

Two Canadian companies share the contract: New Flyer from Winnipeg and Quebec's Nova Bus.

We won 60 percent of the market, says Jennifer McNeil, New Flyer's vice president of sales. The Manitoba company will equip the CTT with the Xcelsior CHARGE NG, equipped with a modular battery system.

It is very important as As technology develops, to provide a very flexible way to improve technology without having to redesign the bus, she explains.

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The carrier is pleased to reach the target imposed by the City in advance.

The carrier has been plagued by economic difficulties following the drop in ridership, and financial support from public institutions has therefore proven to be decisive.

Subsidies and assistance programs reduce the initial investment costs of these vehicles, explains Meena Bibra of Clean Energy Canada, while recalling the long-term financial interest due to the low prices of electricity and almost minimal maintenance costs of this type of vehicle, considerable savings are made over their entire lifespan.

The pilot project was also funded by the federal public transit infrastructure fund.

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At the time it placed the order for these new electric vehicles, other buses, this time hybrid, were delivered, the first in a series of 336.

This is the other pillar on which the ecological transition initiated by the CTT is based, which announced that after this delivery, it would only purchase electric vehicles.

The last thermal bus, which is diesel, was purchased in 2018 and will be retired from service in 2031, and the last hybrid bus is expected to be retired from service in 2037; At that point, we will have an entirely electric fleet, three years before the TransformTO objective, says Bem Case, referring to the City's objective of a carbon-neutral fleet by 2040.

The CTT and its 2,000 buses are part of the equation, as are the Toronto police cars and ambulances, among others.

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For Professor Catherine Morency, investing primarily in electric buses is not the best strategy more ecologically efficient.

For Professor Catherine Morency, holder of the Canada Research Chair in Personal Mobility and professor at Polytechnique Montréal, this aggressive electrification is not the most effective in a tight financial context: If we have a limited amount of money and we are wondering about the best investment today, we would be better off increasing the level of service.

Although she insists that no one is against the electrification of buses, she still maintains that the trade-off in terms of financial and environmental costs can be improved. This is an observation shared by the user advocacy organization TTC Riders.

However, for Meena Bibra, visibility is important and the positive message sent by Canada's most populous city transitioning to zero emissions is also important.

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