However, those buses have been plagued with issues and more than half are already out of service. Three years in and it hasn’t been a smooth ride.
“They right away became a problem for our operators,” said ATU 569 president Steve Bradshaw.
The transit union said they faced numerous mechanical issues, battery problems and dealt with missing parts. Many of the drivers couldn’t even get behind the wheel.
“The configuration of the cab is such that it suits people of a sort of average stature, but if you’re small or large it doesn’t suit you at all,” Bradshaw said.
“It’s very difficult to drive.”
Many of the drivers would ask to be switched off the electric bus shifts and have filed complaints with the Workers Compensation Board, the union said.
The electric vehicles only make up a small percentage of the city’s 1,000-bus fleet, but more than half aren’t on the road.
The city paid more than $1 million for each bus and ordered 60 from U.S.-based manufacturing company Proterra, which built, wrapped and painted them in South Carolina.
City council started looking at the idea of electric buses when trolley buses were phased out years ago.
The buses run off long-range batteries, which are powered using electricity from overhead charging stations in the garage when they’re not in use. Edmonton was one of the first cities in North America to have this type of charging technology.
“You’ve invested a lot of money into these buses, which are meant to provide improvement in people’s quality of life and the majority of them aren’t on the streets,” city councillor Andrew Knack said.
He’s frustrated with the process.
“That’s a huge cost we have invested and it’s not producing what everyone expected when we first bought those buses.”
But it won’t be easy to get the buses to back on the road — Proterra filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, meaning ETS will not be able to access new parts to repair the fleet.
“Now that their parts warehouse is locked up and we can’t get new parts for them. That’s sort of a cut-and-dry situation there, we can’t do anything with that,” Bradshaw said.
Knack said this has raised many questions about what the next step is.
“Is there a way through, whatever ends up happening in that, to then be able to…somebody picks up the contract or what goes on to try and recover the cost?” Knack said.
“In the end, this is a contract and many cities have purchased electric buses from this group. I think all we want would be what everyone wants — (which) is what we paid for.”
In a statement to Global News, ETS branch manager Carrie Hotton-MacDonald says due to it being an active legal matter they are unable to speak to specifics at this time.
“The City will continue to take all necessary steps to preserve its rights in the bankruptcy proceedings and ensure Edmontonians can continue to rely on safe, convenient, and reliable transit service,” read the statement.
The transit union said the electric buses are on modified schedules until the issues are resolved, whereas the other diesel buses can run all day. Bradshaw said next time, the union hopes to be consulted first.
“If you’d had those bus drivers sitting in that seat. They’d have been saying to them on the spot, before they ever put out a plug nickel for them, ‘No I can’t drive this thing, are you kidding me?'”
The city is already looking at other green options: a pilot project with a hydrogen bus launched in 2022.