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Laval unveils its first electric city bus

Published by the Montreal Gazette

The slow-charging electric bus is expected to last a full day on one charge

Société de transport de Laval driver Anik Vezina, a 20-year veteran of the STL, drives electric bus during its unveiling in Laval on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE

The first thing you notice is the silence, then the hum of what sounds like a slightly louder-than-normal refrigerator.

The province’s first slow-charging electric bus rolled into the Société de transport de Laval’s garage in near silence Thursday morning — as STL employees applauded its arrival. It is the first of 40 buses to come to both Laval and Montreal as part of a joint purchase by their respective transit agencies.

“We’re very proud of this Laval first,” said Éric Morasse, Société de transport de Laval chairperson.

The city is slated to get 10 electric buses and Montreal will get the remaining 30, with delivery to start by the end of the year at a cost of $1.075 million each.

Electric buses are not new to the province. The Société de transport de Montréal has been using quick-charge buses on its No. 36 Monk Line since 2017. They are charged in three minutes on average at the beginning and end of each route. However, the slow-charge buses are the first that are expected to last a full day on one charge.

Laval’s first bus will be tested during the next few months before taking on passengers sometime next year. Morasse said the STL will have one bus line entirely served by electric buses by the end of next year. The STM will also be testing its new slow-charge buses during the next few months, and both transit agencies will be comparing data.

The first slow-charging electric bus rolls through the STL garage in Laval on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Built by Winnipeg-based New Flyer Industries,the buses have an autonomy of about 250 kilometres and can be fully charged in three and a half hours. When all energy costs are factored in, the city estimates it will save between 40 and 50 per cent on energy costs (compared with the price of diesel fuel) and another 15 to 20 per cent in maintenance costs.

“The biggest issue we have with our (diesel and hybrid) buses now is the anti-pollution systems like the particulate filters,” said Marc Lafontaine, a mechanic who will be testing the new electric buses.

He explained that the electric buses don’t have particulate filters because they don’t spew out significant emissions. The electric motors also don’t need as much maintenance as diesel-fuelled ones.

The buses won’t be entirely electric, however, because they come with a high-powered heating system that is activated when the outside temperature drops below four degrees Celsius. The heating system uses diesel fuel to warm the interior of the bus and consumes about three litre of fuel per hour.

“If the bus used a heating system that ran on its own battery, that would reduce its autonomy by about half,” said STL director general Guy Picard.

The air-conditioning system runs on the bus’s battery and will slightly reduce its overall autonomy, but STL officials are not yet certain how great the effect will be.

STL chairman Eric Morasse speaks during unveiling of new electric bus in Laval on Thursday, Aug. 15, 2019. ALLEN MCINNIS / MONTREAL GAZETTE

Roughly half of Laval’s fleet has routes where buses travel fewer than 250 kilometres, so the new electric buses can already run on many routes without having to be recharged in the middle of the day. Picard said electric buses not only save on fuel and maintenance costs, but the city will have to buy fewer of them to replace the current hybrid and diesel fleet because they will need to be taken out of service less often for major repairs or maintenance.

With all the good news about electric buses being bandied about months before delivery of a major order of diesel-fuelled hybrid-electric buses, the obvious question Thursday morning was: Why can’t transit agencies start buying all-electric buses immediately?

Picard said the technology still needs to be tested, and it will require enormous investment and time to add enough charging facilities to the agency’s garages.

“It’s going to take several years to adapt to the new technology, so we need a slow transition,” Picard said.

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