City rolling out electric buses next year, not quite ‘zero-emission’

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A diesel auxiliary heater is supposed to increase the single charge range of the buses on cold days.

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Taylor Blewett Renée Amilcar, Ottawa's new General Manager of Transit Services, stands near one of the city's new electric buses. Renée Amilcar, Ottawa’s new General Manager of Transit Services, stands near one of the city’s new electric buses. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Mail media

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OC Transpo will shortly be launching its first electric buses, but their operation will still depend in part on diesel fuel.

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At a media conference on Friday showcasing the shiny new battery-electric buses due to go into service early next year, transit staff confirmed that a diesel booster heater would be used to keep the buses running on cold days to extend a single charge.

According to the manufacturer New Flyer from Winnipeg, the expected range of the buses drops from mid 300 kilometers at around 25 ° C to mid 200 kilometers when the temperature drops to zero and the electric heating system works hard to warm the bus.

“Then we start the diesel and then your range increases again because you no longer use your energy for heating, but for propulsion,” explained Dan Villeneuve, program manager for electric buses.

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Going fully electric for bus heating is an option, said Jim Greer, director of transportation, but the industry is using diesel booster heaters to maximize range.

The thermostatically controlled diesel heater uses up to three liters of fuel per hour, but Villeneuve said actual usage is temperature dependent, influenced by factors like the number of people on the bus warming it.

In contrast, Villeneuve said the city’s newest 40-foot Nova bus, which is diesel, consumes about 0.47 liters per kilometer, the vast majority of which powers the bus with a small portion used for heating. These buses travel 800 kilometers per day, depending on the route, said OC Transpo engineer Jeremy Morton. So you see around 400 liters of diesel fuel per bus every day.

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An employee report last June in a section on the limitations of battery-electric buses stated that they were “not 100 percent emission-free” due to diesel heating, but Canada Infrastructure Bank and Infrastructure Canada consider them federal funding and qualify for it.

OC Transpo presented its first battery-electric buses on Friday. OC Transpo presented its first battery-electric buses on Friday. Photo by Tony Caldwell /Mail media

The council had instructed the employees to examine approaches and financing options for the switch to a complete, low-emission OC Transpo bus fleet. After examining various energy systems, the employees recommended battery-electric bus technology until 2027 with a review at that time.

The council supported the recommendation and decided that the city should continue to buy such “emission-free” buses in the future, provided that operational needs can be met, it is affordable for the city and the annual bus order is based on the experience with the emission-free buses already in the fleet.

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Since diesel buses are being phased out over time, Transpo’s entire fleet could be emission-free by 2036.

“OC Transpo will try to mobilize government loans, financing and grants so that no additional municipal tax funds are required to convert OC Transpo’s transit fleet to zero-emission buses,” the city said in a press release on Friday.

Transit Commission Chairman Allan Hubley said battery electric buses were expected to have “significantly lower” maintenance costs and a quieter ride than Transpo’s diesel buses, while their capacity and design are similar “to provide a standardized customer experience “.

Chargers in Transpo’s St. Laurent garage can restart the buses completely in five hours.

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During the federal election campaign in the fall, Yasir Naqvi, now a MP for the Ottawa Center, promised to campaign for newly acquired electric OC Transpo buses to be used on service routes in parts of the community with higher levels of pollution.

When asked about that promise on Friday, Mayor Jim Watson, who campaigned for the promise of an electric bus pilot in 2018, said the routes would be set by OC Transpo planners.

“I’m not sure how you define higher levels of pollution because pollution knows no bounds. It doesn’t stay in one station or the other, ”added Watson. “I think the reality is that we want to try and get them on routes that most people see and use and experience an electric bus.”

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