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Edmonton debuts fleet of new electric buses

The City of Edmonton has acquired 21 electric-battery buses for public transport.
The City of Edmonton has acquired 21 electric-battery buses for public transport. Wes Rosa / Global News

The City of Edmonton is now home to 21 battery-electric buses which will hit the roads starting in August.

ETS ordered 40 electric buses from Proterra, which built, wrapped and painted them in South Carolina.

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 is one of the first cities in North America to have this type of charging technology.

The buses can travel up to 350 km on a single charge and the batteries work in all weather conditions.

Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson got to test drive one of the buses in a parking lot on Thursday.

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“It’s going to be extraordinary for our operators and for the public to be on a really quiet, comfortable, super high-efficient bus.”

Iveson also touted the long-term savings involved with electric buses.

“They do cost more to buy but they’re about 30 per cent more efficient to operate. And at a time where we’re all sort of scratching our heads to make sure that all civic expenditures — particularly transit — are as efficient as possible and as focused as possible, these super-efficient buses will help us long into the future, control the cost of delivering service.”

READ MORE: City: Edmonton to boast Canada’s largest fleet of electric buses

Iveson said he’s hopeful more of the battery-electric buses will be included in the ETS fleet over time.

“This is something we want to see grow, something we want to scale.”

Ryan Birch, acting director of transit operations, said the buses have something called regenerative braking.

“As we drive the bus, when we let go of the throttle pedal, it lets power go back and be regenerated into the battery system.”

What does Edmonton Transit look like long-term?
What does Edmonton Transit look like long-term?

Iveson said he’s been taking calls from mayors across North America asking about the investment and the technology behind it.

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The mayor said some training on the buses has been delayed due to border closures amidst the pandemic, but they’re expected to be on the roads starting Aug. 4.

“They’re street legal and ready to go and they’re really cool to ride,” he said.

READ MORE: Up to 40 electric transit buses coming to an Edmonton street near you

“When you’re on the bus it’s quieter, but also when the bus is going by — for people on the sidewalk, people on patios, people in residential neighbourhoods — the bus will have much lower impact in terms of what people hear. And of course, there’s no tail pipe.”

Iveson said the buses help the city meet its climate goals as well, even though they run using power from the grid.

“Overall there will be a lower footprint in our community directly on the street, and a lower overall ecological footprint cumulatively on these buses.”

City council started looking at the idea of electric buses when the trolley buses were phased out years ago.

“Here we all full circle. We’ve gone back to fully electric so it’s actually back to the future,” he said.

“These are really ideal as transit vehicles to use electrification because of the regenerative braking in particular, which you can actually feel when you take your foot off the gas. You can feel the bus recharging itself as it slows down.”

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Read more: City says ‘no risk to transit riders’ after employee at ETS garage tests positive for coronavirus

Iveson is hopeful the federal government will come through with grant money to help pay for the buses. He said the provincial government cancelled funding earmarked for the new fleet.

As for current bus usage in the pandemic?

“We’re up to about half the normal ridership for this time of year. That’s better recovery than we’d anticipated — but obviously we still have a long way to go,” Iveson explained.

He said the decreased revenue from ridership is added to because there’s increased costs for cleaning during the pandemic.