Aside from their green-and-white livery, the three buses sitting at the TTC’s Hillcrest Yard on Friday didn’t look much different than the rest of the commission’s fleet. But the vehicles could represent the start of a green revolution for the country’s largest transit agency.
The trio are so-called “battery electric” buses, which are powered solely by lithium-ion batteries. The TTC is planning to buy 30 of the vehicles this year, marking its first ever purchase of the technology.
The acquisition would be a big first step toward the TTC meeting its targets of buying only emissions-free buses starting in 2025, and having a completely emissions-free fleet by 2040.
“We are out front and helping to lead the North American transit industry in the push towards zero-emissions buses,” said Bem Case, head of vehicle programs for the TTC. “It’s exciting to be part of that new emerging trend.”
According to a TTC report released last November, there were only about 200 battery electric buses in service in all of North America.
Each of the three vehicles on display at the TTC yard was made by a different manufacturer. The agency plans to buy at least 10 from each company, and test which model performs best to decide what to buy for a bigger order down the road.
The three companies selected are BYD, a Chinese manufacturer, which has built hundreds of thousands of electric vehicles; New Flyer, a Winnipeg-based coach company, and Proterra, headquartered in California, which boasts a former Tesla executive as its CEO.
Case said that, while BYD and New Flyer vehicles consist of battery-powered systems installed in the frame of a conventional bus, Proterra designed its vehicle from the ground up.
The buses on TTC property are likely not the exact models the agency will end up buying, but they’ve been brought to Toronto to allow operators and other employees to familiarize themselves with the technology.
The TTC expects to receive the first of the electric buses by the end of the year, and to start putting them on the road in the first quarter of 2019.
In June, the agency plans to ask the TTC board to authorize the purchase of an additional 30 buses sometime next year.
Together, the 60 vehicles would cost $140 million, a price that includes charging infrastructure for at least three TTC garages.
The cost is being split roughly equally between the city and federal government, with a $10-million contribution from the province. Case said the cost-sharing limits the financial risk to the TTC, should the vehicles turn out to be unreliable.
To test the vehicles’ performance, the TTC will identify about 30 routes broadly representative of the entire network in terrain, distance and passenger volume, and run the three types of electric buses on each of them in what will amount to a head-to-head competition.
The buses are supposed to be able to run for about 250 kilometres on a single charge, and the TTC will monitor whether they perform as advertised.
Aside from their groundbreaking technology, the buses will also be evaluated on features such as doors and HVAC systems, which Case described as the “number one reliability killers” on any transit vehicle.
TTC riders will be able to spot the buses once they go into service, because they’ll be covered in special wraps. The electric vehicles will also be noticeable, because they’re virtually silent. The agency is asking the manufacturers to install noise generators for safety reasons.
In addition to environmental benefits of improving local air quality and making a contribution to the global fight against climate change, the electric bus program could also have economic benefits.
According to Case, the TTC’s fleet, which consists of roughly 2,000 diesel-electric hybrids, “clean diesel,” and conventional diesel buses, consumes 90 million litres of fuel every year.
Replacing them with battery electric buses would save roughly $90 million in fuel costs annually.
Mayor John Tory, who was expected to tour the three buses at an event in Etobicoke on Saturday, said the buses are “a great example of how we are modernizing our services, innovating for the long term and planning for climate change ….”