In The News
Transit getting greener
Published by The Winnipeg Free Press – Provincial Engineering & Geoscience Week
Written by Geoff Kirbyson
The days of knowing your bus is coming because you can hear it before you see it are coming to an end.
The introduction of zero-emission buses by Winnipeg Transit in 2014 represented the beginning of the end for diesel-powered public transportation in the city. There are just four electric buses in its fleet of more than 600 right now but it’s just a matter of when, not if, every bus in Winnipeg is powered by electricity.
David Warren, the Seattle, Wash.-based director of sustainable transportation for New Flyer of America, said it’s not difficult to see where things are going if you only look at the evolution of the automotive industry over the past 20 years.
“Vehicles have moved from diesel to diesel-electric and now we’re seeing the transition to the all-electric vehicle or battery-electric vehicle,” he said. Warren added that New Flyer actively supports over 44,000 heavy-duty transit buses currently in service, of which 7,300 are powered by electric motors and battery propulsion and 1,600 are zero-emission.
New Flyer Industries, which is based in Winnipeg, is the parent company of New Flyer of America.
To the casual observer, the one thing that differentiates electric buses from diesel ones is they don’t have a tailpipe, which means there are no greenhouse gases or other pollutants being coughed into the air.
So, why doesn’t everybody go green right away? Well, it’s not as simple for a transit authority to merely order a bunch of new buses. First, the lifespan of the typical city bus is typically 12 years or more. Second, the bus-recharging infrastructure needs to be built before new buses arrive. It would be the equivalent of having diesel buses without a fuel station.
The actions of regulators across North America will also play a significant role in how quickly the transition occurs.
“The trend towards electric propulsion certainly makes a lot of sense. The infrastructure and power to be able to support a large fleet like Winnipeg Transit’s isn’t insignificant.
While the vehicle technology is fully ready, the infrastructure required by the city and transit authority is going to require a lot of thoughtful planning and investment,” Warren said.
Winnipeg has fast-charge buses that use an overhead charging system at the James A. Richardson International Airport. They simply drive underneath it, get connected and power up. Each bus requires six minutes of charging for one hour of operation. Warren noted that New Flyer also builds extended range electric buses that travel up to 230 miles between recharge.
Buying an electric bus isn’t cheap, either. A typical 40-foot bus can run anywhere from the low $700,000s to the mid-$900,000s, depending on battery capacity, type of charging system, GPS and security systems. That’s about a 50 per cent premium over a diesel bus.
What you spend up front, however, transit operators can recoup through energy savings and maintenance benefits. Warren estimates that could exceed $400,000 over 10 years. (All figures are in U.S. dollars.)
Not having an internal combustion engine, electric buses are noticeably quieter than their diesel counterparts, and that presents safety issues for visually-impaired pedestrians and others — say, those who might be preoccupied with a cellphone — and aren’t expecting it to be so quiet. Industry groups, such as the American Public Transportation Association, are looking into technologies that would provide some kind of audible “supplement” to enable visually-impaired people (and cellphone addicts) to know when their bus is coming.
“We expect there will be some forthcoming standards on this that will apply to buses, trucks and automobiles. It is a concern. New Flyer is part of that process to come up with solutions using the best and most suitable technology,” he said.
In addition to increased “electrification” of buses, they’re also going to get smarter. Warren said each new iteration will have more sensors, which will help drivers detect obstructions and avoid collisions.
“This is an exciting time to be in transportation with the progression of the vehicles to make them safer and more efficient,” he said.
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