TransLink to tap into $154M federal gas tax fund for 57 electric-battery buses

Jan 26 2021, 1:34 am

Metro Vancouver Regional District’s board directors are expected to approve on Friday a $154.1 million transfer in funding from the region’s allocation of the federal gas tax fund towards TransLink projects.

This comes after last week’s recommendations endorsement by the regional district’s Finance and Intergovernmental Committee.

Most of the fund will be used to replace ageing bus vehicles, including one-to-one replacements of 57 ageing conventional diesel buses with electric-battery buses, with the federal fund covering $86.09 million of the total cost of $88.74 million.

Another $15.9 million will go to 64 replacement community shuttle mini-buses, $6.54 million will go towards 44 replacement HandyDART vehicles, and just under $2 million to over two dozen service support vehicles.

Confirmation of this funding will allow TransLink to begin the process of ordering these bus vehicles by early this year to ensure a delivery timeline spanning 2021 to 2023.

To support the significant influx of electric-battery buses, TransLink will also receive $27.75 million towards the $30.6 million costs of upgrading the Port Coquitlam Transit Centre bus depot with equipment and infrastructure that can handle the maintenance and charging needs of these electrified models.

Additionally, $11.22 million from the federal gas tax fund will be used to acquire and install seven elevators, replacing the ageing elevators at SkyTrain’s 29th Avenue, Paterson, Edmonds, and Columbia stations, and on West Coast Express.

A further $5.47 million will be used to replace three escalators at Commercial-Broadway Station with new heavy-duty, transit-grade models.

“Although the projects were identified prior to the pandemic, they remain essential despite today’s lower transit ridership. This is because the projects focus exclusively on asset replacement and upgrades, rather than expansion,” reads a regional district staff report.

“These ‘state of good repair’ projects address the safety, accessibility and energy efficiency of the transit system, and are not readily deferred as a result of lower ridership. For example, a transit fleet cannot be operated safely after it has reached the end of its service life.”

Currently, there is $314.5 million in available federal gas tax funding for TransLink to use. After the aforementioned funding allocations, there would still be $160.4 million available to the public transit authority, which could go towards further bus vehicle acquisitions or potentially even cover the majority of the construction cost of the proposed SFU Burnaby Mountain gondola transit line.

Since 2005 when the federal gas tax fund program began, TransLink has received about $1.46 billion from this funding source to expand and improve the region’s public transit. To date, most of the funds have been directed towards acquiring new and replacement bus vehicles and upgrading bus depots. Any use of this fund requires approval by the regional district’s board.

Under the public transit authority’s Low Carbon Fleet Strategy, there are no plans to order additional diesel buses for the conventional fleet moving forward. The strategy is to order electric-battery bus models for all future conventional fleet orders, which will in large part help TransLink reduce its emissions by 45% in 2030 and 80% by 2050.

A substantial investment will also be made to build the new Marpole Transit Centre — a new bus depot that will accommodate 300 electric-battery buses, located on a Fraser River site in Vancouver just west of the Canada Line bridge.

Kenneth ChanKenneth Chan

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