TransLink to launch battery-electric bus trial

Route will run from Vancouver to New Westminster

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Reported by Sean Hitrec

TransLink plans to buy up to four battery-electric powered passenger buses that will first run in a trial along Marine Drive between New Westminster and Vancouver.

The cost and implementation of what TransLink CEO Kevin Desmond called a “pilot project” was not revealed when he updated the mayors’ council on regional transportation at a March 9 meeting in New Westminster.

The future of transit is battery-electric powered

“I personally believe [battery-electric] buses are the future,” Desmond told mayors in response to a question from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson about TransLink’s appetite for electric buses.

Desmond said the buses will run through a relatively unserviced area of New Westminster, South Burnaby and Vancouver along Marine Drive, where speeds reach up to 80 kilometres per hour.

Seattle to build a fleet of green bus

Born in Texas, Desmond has worked in public transportation from New York City to Seattle where he was general manager of the Metro bus service. Seattle’s transit service currently runs two battery-electric buses. A Seattle Times article published Jan. 9 said Seattle is considering buying more than 100 battery-electric buses.

“We will be by far the largest urban area in the country that’s engaged in that pilot,” Desmond said of the planned trial. “The concept that [the consortium] has will be about a two-year evaluation. Personally, given my experience with electric buses, I think we can probably move faster than that. But, from an operating side, you really need to understand what the equipment can do…how long the charge is and what routes are best suited for this technology at this point in time.”

Currently, the TransLink bus fleet has 790 low-emissions diesel buses, 262 electric trolleys, 205 diesel-electric hybrids, 144 diesel-powered community shuttles and 50 compressed natural gas-powered buses.

Translink is in the final stages of securing funding for the battery-electric bus experiment from Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, said Geoff Cross, vice-president of transportation planning and policy for TransLink.

Cross told mayors the buses, which will be supplied by Canadian companies Nova Bus and New Flyer, will be ready for testing about a year after the funding is secured.

The Voice made further enquiries about the cost and implementation but neither TransLink nor the consortium would provide details.

Winnipeg gets battery-electric buses before Vancouver

The Winnipeg-based New Flyer said on its website every 40-foot battery-electric bus saves 160 tonnes of greenhouse gases per year compared to a diesel-powered bus. Messages left with New Flyer were not returned prior to The Voice’s deadline.

Steve Kux, policy analyst for the David Suzuki Foundation, welcomed the news that TransLink was proceeding with a project that will help reduce pollution in the region. Kux said Vancouver’s main contributor to climate change is greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles. He said battery-electric buses would be perfect for the Lower Mainland because they do not produce any emissions.

“In Vancouver, we are lucky to have renewable power,” Kux said, referring to Vancouver’s hydro-electric power sources.

Burnaby Coun. Nick Volkow, who was the city’s former transportation board chairperson, was excited about the plan for the bus-dependent community.

“I don’t see any downside whatsoever,” said Volkow said, adding that the Marine Drive corridor in Burnaby is notoriously underserved by transit.

Winnipeg Transit conducted a similar trial with four battery-electric buses in 2014. Those buses, funded by a number of different institutions in and around Winnipeg, are still in operation.

They run daily on a 40-kilometre, two-hour route from Winnipeg Richardson International Airport, through the city centre to East Kildonan, said Alissa Clark, communications officer for the City of Winnipeg, in an email to The Voice.

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