London mayor pushes for electrified buses during State of the City speech

London Mayor Ed Holder at the 2020 State of the City address on Jan. 22, 2020. Andrew Graham / 980 CFPL

London Mayor Ed Holder highlighted a significant transit announcement Wednesday morning in his second State of the City address.

Holder told a packed house at RBC Place that he is looking to move London transit away from diesel fuel and toward a fully electrified fleet.

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“Our estimates show that a move towards electrification will save our city millions of dollars per year, and those savings only increase as fuel and carbon prices rise,” said Holder.

“This council declared a climate emergency in April. I take that pledge seriously and I know Londoners do, too.”

That would make London the first city in Canada to have a zero-emission fleet of public transit buses.

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Holder says he’s confident that London can tap into senior government funding, but council’s budget chair Josh Morgan says it’s best to be cautious.

“We should not make assumptions about what funding programs will or will not be available in the future. We have a federal government elected where climate change is an important priority. What funding programs that may create opportunities for in the future is not known yet.”

Councillor Stephen Turner also expressed concerns about cost.

“I hope that we’re not drawing money off of service provision and routes and frequency in order to electrify our fleet. I hope that this is additional funding to be able to electrify the fleet while maintaining the service levels that Londoners expect and deserve.”

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After issuing a challenge during his 2019 address to put 13,000 more Londoners to work by the end of the current council term, Holder says there have been signs of progress, with 7,700 net jobs added over the last 12 months.

“It’s impossible to talk about jobs without talking about transportation. In many cases, we need to think [about] transportation investments as job investments,” he said.

Holder also focused on the city’s efforts to support London’s most vulnerable population, referring to it as “the most pressing challenge in our city today.”

How the issues facing London are interconnected resonated with Steve Cordes, the CEO of Youth Opportunities Unlimited, a local charity that aids disadvantaged youth.

“Wrapping in our public transit investments with the job opportunities that are coming and the supports that will draw people back into the job market — it’s touching all the pillars that needs touch, I think.”

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Gerry McCartney, CEO of the London Chamber of Commerce, says the event was sold out again this year.

“Typically, when you have a four-year cycle with the mayor, the first year is always huge because everyone is curious to see what the new mayor has to say, and then it tails off in the next years of their term. We haven’t seen that this year,” said McCartney, adding that more than 1,200 people were expected to attend Wednesday morning.

“It says a lot about our city and our business organizations. They want to hear and know what’s going on in our community, what kind of success stories we’ve seen over the last year and what challenges lie ahead.”

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Holder also touched on plans to expand LTC service, with upcoming round trips between London, Strathroy-Caradoc and Sarnia.

Looking back on some of 2019’s successes, Holder pointed to the city hosting the Juno Awards, the London Knights’ involvement in Canada’s gold-medal world juniors campaign and the securing of senior government funding for rapid transit.

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