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Winnipeg starts massive zero-emission transit transition with order for 16 New Flyer buses

Published by Electric Autonomy

The contract includes an option for another 150 zero-emission buses, and is part of a plan that involves charging infrastructure, green hydrogen production and a transit system makeover

The Winnipeg Transit Authority has finalized its first order of 16 zero-emission buses for the city’s ongoing bus electrification program — part of a comprehensive plan to transition to a fully zero-emissions fleet by 2050.

The buses, a mix of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell vehicles manufactured by New Flyer, a subsidiary of Winnipeg-based NFI Group, won’t start arriving until June 2024. But with the order, Winnipeg is the first city in Canada that’s moving forward with 60-foot zero-emission buses, says Erin Cooke, manager of Winnipeg’s bus electrification program in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

This initial order consists of four 40- and four 60-foot battery electric buses, and the same number of 40- and 60-foot hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. The contract also includes an option for the city to extend it up to four years to purchase an additional 150 40-foot zero-emission buses — in line with its plan to have over 100 zero-emission buses in operation by 2027.

Funding approved last summer

Financing for the purchase comes from the federal Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program. Winnipeg Transit issued the tender for the contract last September, after receiving a total of $478 million from federal, provincial and municipal governments to buy the buses, fund other infrastructure and revamp its entire transit program.

Last spring, Cooke outlined the Transit Authority’s plans in an interview with Electric Autonomy while its application for funding was still pending.

According to Cooke, the Winnipeg Transit Authority currently has 592 40-foot buses and around 40 60-foot buses.

“From a standardization standpoint, most of the [new] buses are the same as our current fleet,” Cooke says. “It helps with training and being able to get people up to speed on the new technology faster, because we don’t have to teach all of the new base systems.”

The zero-emission buses are going to be significantly quieter than the diesel buses currently in operation. They’re also to expected to have similar road handling.

“From a driver’s perspective, they’re not going to notice any difference. A slightly fancier dash, maybe,” says Cooke.

Transit system transition

“We’re proud to extend our partnership with NFI to modernize our transit fleet,” said Mayor Scott Gillingham in a statement. “This purchase will also support local jobs and build Winnipeg’s reputation as a centre of excellence for transit manufacturing and sustainable transit technology.”

NFI is a longstanding bus supplier to Winnipeg Transit, and the two had previously collaborated on a battery electric bus pilot project during 2014-2018.

As the city looks to transition from a hub-and-spoke bus transit to a spine-and-feeder system with the implementation of bus rapid-transit lines, more of the 40-foot buses will be retired favour of the higher-capacity 60-foot buses, says Cooke. Going forward, the transit authority is also considering adding “on-demand” 30-foot buses to make for a more flexible fleet.

Hydrogen and charging infrastructure next

“We are going to be producing green hydrogen on-site for this project too,” says Cooke. That’s going to be another first in Canada, she adds.

With all these new buses on the way, the city is sketching out plans for charging infrastructure, too. The procurement for the bus charging network is separate from the bus order and has yet to be released. Stantec is helping with the design and the request for proposal documents, which will be going out later this year, Cooke says.

“The [electric] charging network should be up and running when the buses arrive,” she adds. There may be some delays with the hydrogen charging network, but Winnipeg Transit is already considering temporary hydrogen options if the buses arrive before everything else is in place.

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