St. Albert Greenlights Electric Buses

St. Albert could have up to four electric buses on its streets by September 2016 now that council has agreed to buy them with cash from GreenTRIP.

City council voted unanimously to accept the results of St. Albert Transit’s recent electric bus trial and to go ahead with plans to buy that kind of bus once the city gets cash from the provincial GreenTRIP program to do so.

St. Albert Transit did a trial run of two types of electric bus in August 2014 and March 2015 to see how they performed, said transit director Bob McDonald in an interview.

The two buses had ranges of about 170 and 250 kilometres per charge, the trial run showed – more than enough for the city’s needs, McDonald said.

The buses used the equivalent of 11.5 litres of fuel per 100 kilometres in operation, or about five times less than that used by conventional diesel buses. They produced about 44 to 51 per cent less greenhouse gas emissions as a result.

Electric buses need less maintenance than diesel ones because they don’t have transmissions and don’t need oil changes, said St. Albert Transit fleet manager Kevin Bamber in an interview. They’re also far more efficient, creating more savings.

While it costs about $378,000 more to buy an electric bus than a diesel one in terms of capital costs, Transit found that it would cost about $477,000 less over its lifespan to fuel and maintain it, resulting in a lifetime savings of about $99,000 without GreenTRIP support. Add in GreenTRIP, and you save about $632,325.

McDonald said riders and drivers were both pleased with the electric buses in the city’s trials, noting that they were much quieter than diesel ones and provided a smoother ride.

Assuming the city gets GreenTRIP support, Transit plans to put out a request for proposals for up to four electric buses, Bamber and McDonald said. (They won’t proceed without provincial support.) These buses would likely be heated using small diesel heaters during the winter. The goal is to have the buses on the streets by 2016.
If the city replaced its diesel buses with electric ones as they expired, McDonald said that the city’s bus fleet could be totally electric in about 18 years.

Electric buses not only make sense from an economic perspective, but they also help green the environment, Bamber said. “When it’s a double-win like that, why not do it?”

While rare in North America, electric buses are relatively common in South America and China, Bamber told council Monday.

The city wasn’t able to test the buses under true winter conditions, but found they ran fine in -17 C weather last March, McDonald said. Montreal reported no problems with its electric buses during its recent winter trial.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said this would be a “risky” investment without GreenTRIP support, noting the narrow cost difference between an electric and a regular bus without it and uncertainties around the bus’s winter performance.

“If electricity prices go up and gas prices go down, all those savings will be completely nullified.”

It’s rare to see a choice where both the environmental and economic outcomes are good, Coun. Tim Osborne said. This technology would be worth a look even in the absence of GreenTRIP.

“We’re talking about a 44 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, and that’s substantial.”

Mayor Nolan Crouse said that emails he had received suggested that the city would get a decision on GreenTRIP funding for this project in a few weeks.

Story Tags:  MobilitySt. AlbertTransportation