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Electric buses in Canada: Fuelling green economy [free access]

July 1, 2017

Canada has recently launched various pilot projects and demonstrations for the operation of electric buses. Growing urban areas such as Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton and St. Albert have deployed electric buses and announced plans to ramp up procurement. With transit agencies announcing plans to go fully-electric by 2025 or 2030, and bus manufacturers increasing production capacity, electric buses are expected to provide a boost for the Canadian economy.


Electric Mobility Canada (EMC), the national organisation promoting electrification of transportation, submitted a request to the national government in December 2016 to financially support electric transit solutions for Canada’s public transport operations.  


Box 1 provides a general introduction to electric buses.


Box 1: Electric buses


Electric buses (e-buses) can either be purely electric or hybrid-electric. Hybrid-electric buses allow up to 20-30 per cent savings in fuel in the urban environment while pure electric buses have a zero carbon footprint.


As of 2015, the global electric market accounted for volume sales of 19,059 units. The market is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 20.9 per cent in terms of volume during the period 2016-2025.


Among the various technologies, the parallel pure electric bus is expected to be the largest segment (50.8 per cent share) in the global electric bus market in 2025.


Currently, a majority of electric buses in service are hybrid because they cost less and offer operational flexibility in terms of alternative fuel.


The major players operating in the electric bus market include AB Volvo, BYD Company Limited, Nova Bus, Shenzhen Wuzhoulong Motors Company Limited, FAW Group Corporation, King Long United Automotive Industry Company Limited, Daimler AG, Alexander Dennis Limited, EBUSCO, Ashok Leyland Limited, Solaris Bus & Coach S.A., Proterra Inc, and Zhengzhou Yutong Group Company Limited.

Source: Global Mass Transit Research


Canadian bus market

According to the Canadian Urban Transit Association (CUTA), there were 15,919 transit buses in revenue service across Canada, at the end of 2015. The average age of these buses was 7.7 years. While newer-generation buses are relatively cleaner in terms of emissions, older diesel buses contribute significantly to emissions of particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide and hydrocarbons.


On an average, around 1000 buses in Canada are replaced every year. Most of these are still powered by diesel and are expected to be in service for the next 18 to 20 years.


Need for pilot testing

The total lifecycle cost of electric buses is lower than that of all other technologies. Therefore, there is a need to determine operating conditions (number of buses to be deployed, type of infrastructure, duty-cycle, garage facility readiness, etc.) to produce a viable business case for deployment. According to the EMC, there are a growing number of routes and duty cycles where there is a strong business case in favour of using electric vehicles.


In 2017 the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) launched a two-year Pan-Ontario Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial, the details of which are in Box 2.


Box 2: Pan-Ontario Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial


The CUTRIC electric bus trial aims to deploy 25 e-buses across transit agencies in Ontario by 2018. It will integrate at least seven transit systems across five or more electrical distribution jurisdictions. The trial results will be used to predict and analyse the optimised usage of Ontario’s Smart-Grid technology vis-à-vis on-route and end-point charging requirements for electric bus systems.


The trial will evaluate electric buses manufactured by two Canadian bus manufacturers, New Flyer Industries in Manitoba and Nova Bus from Quebec. ABB will supply interoperable opportunity charging systems with inverted pantograph technology, rated up to 450 kW. The company will provide a system that is open to all bus brands as well as other charger manufacturers. Siemens Canada will be the charging solution provider for the Pan Canadian Demonstration Project.

Source: CUTRIC


Electric bus pilots and deployment plans in Canada

Windsor: The city was one of the first to announce plans for electric buses in 2012 and signed a letter of intent with BYD to purchase up to 10 12-metre (40-foot) long electric buses. However, the collaboration fell through and the city selected US-based manufacturer Proterra to supply 10 electric buses. The deal with Proterra never materialised due to regulatory issues and soaring costs. As of 2017, Windsor Transit is discussing launch of an electric bus pilot as part of CUTRIC.


St. Albert: The city of St. Albert and the province of Alberta, have together introduced Canada’s first battery-powered electric bus in June 2017. BYD has delivered three electric buses to the city, as part of an order to supply seven electric buses by 2018.


The buses will be 10.5 metres (35 feet) long and operate on both local and commuter transit routes. Although they are slightly smaller than the current 12-metre (40-foot) long buses, seating capacity is only reduced by five seats (a 40-foot long conventional bus has 37 seats while a 35-foot long electric bus has 32 seats). The bus can make multiple trips without recharging.


Vancouver: The South Coast British Columbia Transportation Authority (TransLink) has announced plans to procure 105 hybrid-electric buses and four electric battery buses. Trial runs have already begun with the first electric battery-powered bus supplied by BYD in Vancouver. Each bus costs CAD1 million and has a range of more than 260 km.


Montréal: In May 2017, Société de transport de Montréal (STM) deployed three electric buses in Montréal, as a part of the Quebec Transport Electrification Action Plan 2015-2020.


Nova Bus and Volvo developed the bus. The drive train was built by TM4, a company owned by Hydro Quebec, a government-owned electric utility. The motors were designed in Boucherville, and the buses themselves were built in Saint-Eustache. Nova Bus invested CAD8 million and the government provided the additional CAD16 million needed to complete the project.


The buses are deployed on 36 Monk Line, which spans 11 km connecting the Angrignon and Square Victoria metro stations. The route has an average daily ridership of about 3,000 passengers. Rapid charging stations at both locations charge the batteries during the day. There are four Level 2 charging stations at the Lasalle bus garage. Each bus can run from 15 km to 25 km on a single charge. The buses are fully charged overnight at regular charging stations. 


Box 3 provides the spec sheet for the bus.


Box 3: Specifications of the electric bus deployed in Montréal


  • 3 LFSe 100% electric buses by Nova Bus
  • Body/chassis/axles/brakes: LFS
  • TM4 electric drive system made in Québec
  • 4 batteries – LiFePO4 – 633 volts
  • Contact points located on bus rooftop for quick recharging
  • Hybrid, diesel/electric heating unit: 23 kW / 7 kW
  • Air-conditioning unit: Thermo-King 16 kW
  • Maximum speed: 90 km/h
  • Audio signal when bus gets underway

Source: Global Mass Transit Research


STM plans to have a fully electric bus fleet by 2025 at an investment of about CAD11.9 million.


Brampton: The city of Brampton in Ontario’s Greater Toronto Area has announced plans to purchase up to 10 battery-electric buses and four high-powered overhead electric charging stations as part of CUTRIC’s Pan-Ontario Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial. The buses are expected to be procured at an investment of CAD13.6 million.


York: The Regional Municipality of York has announced plans to purchase up to six battery-electric buses as part of CUTRIC’s Pan-Ontario Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial. The project is the first electric bus project to be supported by a power provider, Newmarket-Tay Power Distribution Limited (NTPDL). NTPDL will purchase and maintain the overhead on-route charger to power the vehicles.


Winnipeg: Winnipeg Transit has deployed four New Flyer Xcelsior e-buses as part of an electric bus collaboration project involving the City of Winnipeg, the Province of Manitoba, Manitoba Hydro, New Flyer Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Red River College, and Sustainable Development Technology Canada.


Issues with deployment

Although pure electric buses are environmentally friendly, demand for them is low because the price is almost twice that of a conventional bus. The numbers vary with models and options, but a typical 12-metre (40-foot) long diesel bus is priced at USD525,000, while the same size pure electric bus is priced at about USD775,000. The prices of natural gas and hybrid buses are somewhere in between.


The supports of electric buses boast of lower lifecycle costs because electricity is cheaper than diesel fuel or gasoline, in most places, most of the time, and an electric vehicle has a simpler powertrain, which is cheaper to maintain.


The battery is the biggest cost component of an electric bus as it is in electric cars. The battery manufacturing costs are declining but not fast enough to effectively compete with combustion engines.


Apart from the premium pricing of electric buses being a factor limiting their acceptance in price sensitive countries, inadequate infrastructure, such as lack of charging stations, is another constraint in the adoption of electric buses.


In future, the acquisition cost of electric buses is expected to drop significantly because of increase in production volume and decrease in battery costs. As for charging systems, a wide variety of solutions exist, so each transit agency can select a system which meets its requirements.


Need for federal support in Canada

Nearly half of the buses in service in Canada are operating in fleets of fewer than 50 vehicles. These transit systems typically have limited resources and cannot afford testing new technologies on their own. The transit agencies in such cases require information and guidance to develop the business case for procurement of electric buses.


The economics of e-buses makes sense in many situations despite the requirement for en-route charging infrastructure because, in many cases, this equipment cost can be amortised by a sufficient number of buses and passengers on a route or on a cluster of routes. Generally, the low cost of energy and maintenance over the life of the buses more than offsets the higher capital cost of the bus and of the equipment. When there is such an opportunity, stakeholders, transit operators, transit users, provincial and local governments, taxpayers and communities all benefit. E-buses should be deployed where they will perform well and economically.


Supplier market

Canada is exceptionally well positioned to supply electric buses to urban transit authorities across North America. Two Canadian urban bus manufacturers, New Flyer Bus Industries, headquartered in Winnipeg, MB, and Nova Bus Inc., headquartered in St. Eustache, QC, have strong reputations and are leading suppliers in the US and Canada. Both manufacturers have developed full-size, urban transit bus models and plan to launch commercial versions. Two relatively new American manufacturers, BYD and Proterra, are already well positioned to gain market share.


Recommendations from the EMC December 2016 Report

The EMC has requested that the Government of Canada increase its cost-share in electric bus projects by at least 10 per cent over its standard cost share in diesel bus projects.


The potential elements of electric bus projects include:



EMC believes that the additional incentive provided by the federal government will send a strong signal to transit agencies regarding the preference for clean bus technology.


According to the EMC, the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund or the Green Infrastructure Fund could be aimed and restricted to projects led by transit agencies for their specific purposes. Other federal programmes are available to fund transit R&D activities and to encourage partnerships between manufacturers and academia.



Currently, the market for electric buses is in a nascent phase but is expected to grow as the technology matures and plans announced materialise. The premium price of electric buses is a major hindrance to its large0scale adoption for public transport service. Nevertheless, the deployment of electric bus makes economic sense in many situations given low operational and maintenance costs.


Canada has the unique opportunity to leverage its strengths to establish a vibrant electric bus market in North America. Public awareness and intent for green transportation choices are high, existing bus suppliers have substantial market share in the conventional bus segment, and the government has demonstrated leadership policies by adopting environmentally-friendly goals across all sectors. The support of the federal government and collaboration between different stakeholders (research, transit agencies, industry and communities) can create the optimum conditions needed to spur innovation in electric bus technologies, promote jobs in a green sector, improve the operations capability of transit agencies and make public transportation greener.