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London Ontario leading the charge to Electric buses

London Ontario leading the charge to Electric buses

It is almost a year since London, Ontario mayor Ed Holder surprised an audience at a state-of-the-city speech with a pledge to convert the London Transit fleet to electric buses.

“We’re burning millions on fuel while causing harm to our environment in the process,” Holder said, citing London’s goal to get to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. “There’s an enthusiasm around this because of issues around our environment and issues of our climate crisis. And from a council perspective, there’s absolute consideration related to savings,” he told the London Free Press.

By the end of the year London Transit staff had developed a preliminary report on the pros and cons of such a scheme. While not making light of the challenges, a staff report issued in November, suggests electrification, could have a payback in terms of fuel savings over the life of an E-bus, if the technology were adopted in an aggressive manner.

The key issue is charging infrastructure—and the report says for the system to work, there has to be a combination of charging facilities at the bus operations centre, coupled with what they call “opportunity charging” which involves rapid overhead high-voltage charging stations along the bus routes that can recharge a bus in about five minutes. These charging facilities would be placed strategically along the various bus routes.

An opportunity charging system at the end of a bus route

Electric buses and the overhead charging systems are being evaluated in three Canadian cities right now, in cooperation with the Canadian Urban Transit Research and innovation Consortium (CUTRIC). Eighteen standardized electric buses and seven standardized overhead chargers will be deployed across Vancouver, Brampton and York Region as part of this trial. Four Universities are also involved in carrying out research and development activities across various aspects of electromobility-ranging from electric powertrain, cybersecurity, energy storage and data visualization. In addition, the Toronto Transit Commission is also undertaking a pilot project with electric buses, with the four current North-American electric bus providers all participating. Data collected from each of these pilot programs will be extremely beneficial to systems like London Transit that are considering pilot projects of their own.

A depot charging configuration

The federal government has been active in promoting E Buses. Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna has recently presided over the rollout of e-bus trials in Oakville Edmonton and Guelph, in addition to the other cities taking part in the CUTRIC trials.

Infrastructure Minister Catherine McKenna announcing federal assistance to provide E-Buses to Oakville

The London report summarized the potential energy cost savings employing different charging and propulsion technologies.

Annual Energy/Fuel Cost Estimates-Full Fleet

Bus Fleet and Charging TypeAnnual Fuel/Energy CostsAnnual Savings Compared to Diesel
40 ft Diesel Bus Fleet  $7,144,800 
60 ft Diesel Bus Fleet$10.478,000 
40 ft Battery Electric with smart Depot and Opportunity charging$4,561,200$2,538,600
60 ft Battery Electric with smart Depot and Opportunity charging$7,104,000$3,374,000
40 ft Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus (SMR Process)2,680,8007,797,200

Capital Costs are a significant factor—at current prices a battery electric bus runs about $600,000 more than a Diesel bus. But costs of all electric vehicles are going down as the usage becomes more widespread. Also a batter-electric vehicle has fewer moving parts and requires less maintenance.

In-depot charging costs about $130,000 per unit. The rapid overhead chargers cost about $1.5 Million each. The report suggests it might be more cost effective in some cases to have additional fully depot-charged buses available for some routes rather than the overhead charging.

Hamilton context

If the unit costs for buses and charging were applied to Hamilton, where the HSR has 250 buses roughly and 35 routes, the costs of electrification of the Hamilton fleet would look something like this:

Cost ItemNumber requitedTotal Cost
Opportunity Chargers70-2 per route @$130,000 each$105 Million
E Buses250 @$1Million *$250  Million
Depot charging250 $130,000 per unit   $33 Million
Total cost$391 Million
*Oakville purchasing 73 E Buses for $66 Million

In London the complete electrification of the bus fleet is being evaluated from a financial perspective that is essentially the existing federal-provincial-municipal transit funding model — which would see the City paying just under one third of the capital cost. Hamilton, on the other hand, has the advantage of a $1 Billion offer from the province to fund transit as it sees fit. Without that financial advantage nonetheless, London staff are recommending the city go ahead to engage CUTRIC to develop a detailed implementation plan, “which will include a recommended path forward as well as projected costs associated with full fleet conversion.”.

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