As one of the Canada’s largest bus public transit systems and with its clear intent to completely transition towards electric-battery buses over the coming decades, TransLink is expected to be on the receiving end of the federal government’s new $1.5 billion fund for zero-emission buses.
On Thursday, the federal government announced the new investment in electric-battery buses and bus charging stations as part of its new $10-billion infrastructure fund to stimulate the economy and create jobs. At this early stage, the funding has not been allocated to specific projects and communities.
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“We are pleased to see the commitment of a $10-billion plan which includes $1.5-billion for zero-emission buses. TransLink has policy direction to begin implementing our Low Carbon Fleet Strategy,” said TransLink in a statement to Daily Hive Urbanized.
“We hope to continue providing input to the Canada Infrastructure Bank on the structuring of the funding and financing program to achieve our collective goals.”
Just prior to the onset of COVID-19, TransLink announced its Low Carbon Fleet Strategy would entail seeking funding from senior governments to acquire up to 635 electric-battery buses to replace 40-ft regular buses and 60-ft articulated buses that use conventional combustion fuels.
The acquisition cost is about $1 million for a 40-ft electric-battery bus, and similar for each charging station. While these capital costs are higher, there are significantly reduced operating costs of up to $124 million this decade, based on following the schedule of acquiring 635 vehicles.
Such a new electric-battery bus fleet will also be accompanied by changes to the bus maintenance and storage depots.
TransLink’s board of directors in February 2020 approved a $104 million investment, funded by the federal gas tax transfer, towards the electric-battery bus program, including the design and construction of the new Marpole Transit Centre depot for electric-battery buses. This complements the nearby existing Vancouver Transit Centre next to Arthur Laing Bridge, which is the home base for the trolley buses.
This new transit centre, accommodating up to 300 electric-battery buses, will be built on a vacant industrial site just west of the Canada Line bridge in Vancouver. Conceptual design began in May 2020, and the facility is now slated to be operational by Fall 2024, according to last month’s board of directors report.
As well, 57 aging diesel buses that are slated to be replaced by electric-battery bus models in 2023 will now use on-route charging stations from Port Coquitlam Transit Centre instead of depot charging at Marpole Transit Centre.
For near-term investments, TransLink closed its procurement process in March 2020 for up to 15 additional electric-battery buses. These new vehicles are expected to be delivered next year, allowing Route 100 22nd Street Station/Marpole Loop to be completed converted into TransLink’s first fully electrified bus route.
This is in addition to the first four electric-battery buses that went into service on Route 100 last year. The report notes there were communication and connectivity issues between these initial buses and chargers, but the problems have since been resolved.
The electrification of the bus fleet is TransLink’s primary strategy of reducing its emissions by 45% in 2030, and 80% by 2050.
The existing trolley bus fleet will be replaced with new trolley bus models in 2027-2028, when the fleet — built between 2006 and 209 — reaches the end of their designed lifespan.
As of this week, the Toronto Transit Commission has North America’s largest fleet of electric-battery public transit buses, with a total of 60 vehicles now operational — funded with the help of the federal government at a cost of $140 million.
A previous TransLink report early this year notes there are some new bus operating challenges with electric-battery technology. Batteries have a lower life duration after each charge in cold weather, and maintenance crews will have to monitor projected overnight temperatures during the winter months and implement cold weather procedures if the temperature falls below 3°C. Such procedures may include ensuring all buses are connected to depot charging or have battery heating mode enabled when parked at the depot overnight.
As well, charging is a scheduled that must happen, even if a bus is running late on the route. This means if the existing layover time in bus schedules is used for charging, it will not be able to function as recovery time.
Irregular and unpredictable break and recovery times for bus drivers was a major issue that contributed to last year’s bus union strike. The public transit authority blamed this partially on worsening traffic congestion, which is causing 80% of its bus routes to operate slower compared to 2014.