Metro Vancouver’s public transit authority revealed its ambitious plan today of replacing as many as half of the diesel, diesel-hybrid, and natural gas buses entering retirement this decade with new zero-emission, electric-battery bus models.
This new Low Carbon Fleet Strategy by TransLink over 10 years has a target of acquiring up to 635 electric-battery buses to replace aging 40-ft regular buses and 60-ft articulated buses that use combustion fuels.
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There are three scenarios ranging from cautious, progressive, and aggressive approaches to the scale of the electrification transition, but TransLink staff are recommending that the Mayors’ Council approve the aggressive approach, which will help the public transit authority reach its 2050 goal of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 80%, with an interim target of 45% by 2030.
“Transitioning the bus fleet to zero-emissions technology is an essential step toward breaking the region’s dependence on fossil fuels,” said TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond in a statement. “This strategy sets out a bold course that will eventually allow us to provide 100% green public transportation.”
To proceed with any of the scenarios, TransLink needs between $95 million and $447 million over the coming decade, given the higher upfront costs of acquiring electric-battery buses, which are roughly double the cost of acquiring a diesel bus, as well as the extensive new charging infrastructure required. Each charging unit costs about $1 million.
None of these capital and acquisition costs are funded; significant new additional funding is required from the federal and provincial governments. Without this funding, TransLink will likely be forced to acquire another generation of diesel-hybrid and natural gas buses for its upcoming replacement orders.
But if the strategy proceeds as planned, it is estimated there will be annual operating cost savings of between $27 million and $124 million, depending on the electrification scenario chosen, through 2030, largely due to the use of electricity as a cheap fuel cost.
To support the new electric-battery bus fleet, TransLink will turn its planned Marpole Transit Centre into 100% electric charging ready when it opens in late 2023 or early 2024. This new bus depot will be located on a vacant industrial site on the Fraser River, just west of the Canada Line bridge, in Vancouver.
It will have a storage capacity for about 300 40-ft regular buses, with the depot used for overnight charging for all of its assigned buses.
The aggressive electrification scenario also requires the existing Burnaby Transit Centre be expanded and converted into a depot-charging facility.
Additionally, supplemental in-route charging stations, such as at bus exchanges, are necessary, with charge times estimated to be less than 10 minutes in general.
But there are new potential operational challenges that come with depending on electric-battery buses.
TransLink’s strategy report warns that “bus charging is a scheduled activity that must happen, even if a bus is running late on the route. As such, if existing lay-over time in bus schedules is used for charging, it will not be able to function as recovery time.
Batteries also have a lower life duration after each charge in cold weather. The report notes that 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 for the existing electric-trolley bus fleet, TransLink staff are recommending replacing the current trolley buses with new trolley buses in 2027/28, when the fleet reaches the end of their projected lifespan.
The report states significant modifications and expansion of the existing Vancouver Transit Centre would likely be required to accommodate a conversion of the trolleys into electric-battery buses, in addition to the installation of in-route chargers in downtown Vancouver. Additionally, the vast network of overhead trolley wires would have to be dismantled at great cost. And as the goal is to reduce emissions, replacing trolleys with electric-battery buses would not contribute to further bus fleet emission reductions.
Transportation currently accounts for more than 35% of all greenhouse gas emissions in Metro Vancouver.
If the Mayors’ Council approves this strategy direction in this week’s meeting, it will be integrated into TransLink’s Phase Two transit expansion update plan scheduled for the council’s further consideration in late-Spring 2020 and the Phase Three plan slated for Spring 2021.
TransLink launched its first electric-battery buses for regular service in September 2019. Four electric-battery buses are currently operating on Route 100 between Vancouver’s Marpole Loop and New Westminster’s SkyTrain 22nd Street Station bus loop. The public transit authority is aiming to acquire six additional electric-battery buses this year to fully electrify this bus route.