So, OC Transpo staff have responded with a memo in response to Councilor Mckenney's question regarding trialing electric transit buses in Ottawa. The memo reads like a typical government document written by a bureaucracy looking for every way they can to justify the status quo (in this case, a 100% diesel bus fleet). OC Transpo says they'll watch what other cities are doing and maybe get around to trialing a few buses in 2025. Meanwhile, 14 global cities (including Montreal) have committed to not buy any more diesel buses after 2025 (before OC Transpo even gets around to trying one out!). In Canada leading cities are well into trying out electric buses. These include Toronto (60 electric buses), Edmonton (50 electric buses), Montreal (40 electric buses). Where is Ottawa? For more info check out www.sustainable-bus.com
OC Transpo acknowledges that their buses generate 44% of all the City's corporate emissions but that fact and the recent declaration of a climate emergency doesn't seem to be enough to motivate them to do anything about this for 5 or more years. In fact over the 2018-2020 period OC Transpo is buying 300 brand new diesel buses. They say, bringing the LRT into service is good enough for now.
This memo goes on to trot out a litany of reasons why trialing electric buses would be complicated. Do we try out a bus with big batteries or small batteries?, how would we find space in our garage for the charging infrastructure? we need to train new mechanics, what if the electricity supply to the garage doesn't have enough charging capacity? (hmm no problem running 34 electric trains to the garage though!). They're more expensive so we'd have to study whether we'd save enough money in reduced diesel vs the cost of electricity. In short, this is too much for us to try and deal with right now.
Completely missing from this memo is any acknowledgement of the well known and well understood benefits of electric buses or of their rate of adoption by other transit agencies. The electricity costs per km of travel are easily 1/3 of the diesel costs per km of travel. Electric vehicles are quieter, smoother and more pleasant to ride in, dramatically less polluting, and simpler to maintain. One of the biggest challenges to electric vehicles, the limited range and extra time required to recharge (vs refilling a diesel tank) are much less of a factor for transit buses because the number of kms they need to travel in a day are nearly constant and well known and they can be recharged again each night. Transit buses are very high mileage vehicles with a predictable mileage per day usage pattern -- the perfect scenario for electric vehicles vs fossil fuel powered vehicles.
Maybe the biggest mistake was that OC Transpo was asked about a trial of such buses. What we need is just to get on with starting to migrate the bus fleet to electric. There are 385,000 electric buses in operation worldwide. This is a technology that is well beyond the trial stage. It's time to get on with it.