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OC Transpo’s electric buses performing as well as diesel buses after 2 years: report

A report prepared for the City of Ottawa’s Transit Commission says that OC Transpo’s electric buses are performing as well as the existing diesel fleet, allaying concerns about the future transition to a fully electric fleet.

This follows a previous report last May that showed the battery-electric buses “met or surpassed” the range and efficiency promised by the manufacturer.

The report notes that the four buses put into service in February 2022 are nearing 500,000 kilometres of total service on the roads and have been performing successfully on revenue service routes longer than 10 hours and driving distances exceeding 200 kilometres on a regular basis.

The buses are meeting their mileage targets and are performing as well as or better than the 60-foot diesel buses and the double decker buses.

“The E-Buses are comparable to the average mileage of our diesel fleets,” the report says. “The transition to an electric-bus fleet should not have an impact on service capacity.”

Only the Nova low floor series (LFS) buses outperformed the e-buses in terms of average annual kilometres driven in 2023.

Average Annual Kilometres Driven Comparison of Bus Fleets, 2023 (City of Ottawa)

The report highlighted three issues that contributed to times the e-buses had to come off the road, two of which were solved.

The first was an error with the electric heater turning off after the temperature reached 7 C, which the report says was fixed and hasn’t reappeared. The second was end-of-life brake sensors failing prematurely. The city says this is a redundant system that has since been removed and will not be present on future buses. “We use continuous brake pad wear sensors instead,” the city says.

The third issue was “range anxiety”, where drivers feared the bus wouldn’t be able to complete a trip based on its current charge. This is something the city anticipates it will see routinely until more drivers are trained on the electric buses.

Ottawa City Council approved a nearly $1-billion plan in 2021 to replace the full OC Transpo fleet with zero-emission buses by 2036. The city says each electric bus saves 25,000 litres of fuel per year.

More e-buses are expected to arrive in the city by the end of 2024. The report says the city signed an adoption agreement in 2023 with New Flyer Industries to supply 51 buses.

“To obtain the best value from the contract, 51 buses were procured with a staggered delivery schedule. OC Transpo will be receiving 22 buses in Q4 2024 and the additional 29 buses in Q4 2025,” the report says.

It adds that OC Transpo is also working with Nova Bus to sign an adoption agreement to purchase an additional 51 buses, with a staggered delivery schedule, receiving four buses from Nova in Q4 2024 with the remaining 47 arriving in Ottawa in Q4 2025.

Another 110 buses are scheduled to arrive in the second half of 2026. This will include 92 forty-foot buses and 18 sixty-foot buses. Another 136 sixty-foot buses are scheduled to arrive in the latter half of 2027.

Charging infrastructure under construction

The report says charging infrastructure for a larger number of electric buses is under construction.

Phase 1 of upgrading the St. Laurent south garage is scheduled to be completed this April. Phase 2 is in the design stage and is slated for completion in the first quarter of 2025. When finished, the south garage will have the capacity to park and charge 143 electric buses. The city should have 106 electric buses by the end of 2025.

The north garage project is slated to be completed by the end of 2025, which will add an additional 93 parking and charging spaces. A new parking structure and servicing area covering the existing exterior bus parking lot at 1500 St. Laurent is also scheduled for completion by the end of 2026. This will add another 84 parking and charging spaces, bringing the total to 326, for an expected 216 buses.

The city says it is also acquiring two 4MW generators, two 44kV/13.8kV transformers two 13.8kV switchgears with eHouses, protection, and control devices to support the charging infrastructure, which are all expected to be on-site in 2025.

The Transit Commission meets at 9:30 a.m. Monday. 

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