Study completion marks major step in London Transit Commission push for zero-emissions bus fleet

The London Transit Commission's satellite facility on Wonderland Road South. Andrew Graham / Global News

The results of a Fleet Electrification Analysis Study are in as the London Transit Commission looks toward a greener future for public transit in the city.

The study, commissioned in January, is now complete and was discussed at Wednesday’s commissioners meeting.

“What this report really has done is is made the path a little bit more clear,” said general manager Kelly Paleczny.

“The next step will be spelling that out specifically in terms of an implementation plan and what the costs associated with that will be.”

Read more: London Transit Commission approves $83K feasibility study into electrifying its bus fleet

Paleczny says the study looked at technology that is currently available as well as the pre-COVID service realities for the LTC, which includes items like ridership levels and geographic information.

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It then looked at three different approaches to charging batteries: depot-only charging for 40′ and 60′ battery-electric buses (BEBs), on-route opportunity charging for 40′ and 60′ BEBs, and using hydrogen fuel-cell electric buses (FCEBs).

“Essentially what it says is depot charging only is not feasible because there’s a significant number of our routes where we would have to replace a bus halfway through the day because the battery wouldn’t be capable of sustaining operation through an 18-hour day like the current diesel buses are.”

Read more: Edmonton’s 1st electric bus hits city streets

According to a staff report on the study, in order to transition to a depot-only charging solution with BEBs, “the current diesel fleet would need to be increased by approximately 50 per cent in order to have enough buses to deliver the current levels of service.” That would work out to an additional 100 buses and a third facility to accommodate them, making a depot-only charging approach not financially viable.

The study looked at an opportunity-charging approach based on the assumption that each bus would be able to charge for up to five minutes at the end of each round trip, but found that the cost and need to install opportunity charges covering every route made it unfeasible for the entire fleet.

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The study suggests some routes could benefit from depot-only charging while others could benefit more from opportunity charging.

As for FCEBs, the study found that the costs associated with the initial purchases and with operational costs are “significant.”

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“(The study has) given us some clues as to where there might be issues and that’s where we would target pilot (projects). And the nice thing about a pilot is normally what you would do with a pilot is you wouldn’t replace the diesel with an electric, you would buy extra buses and you would utilize those as a pilot, but you would have diesels as backup if there are problems,” Paleczny said.

“And once you’ve got a handle on how well they’re working, that’s when you would start that cycle of actually replacing one-for-one.”

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According to the staff report, a one-to-one replacement of a diesel bus with a BEB can result in incremental costs in the range of $600,000, as well as $130,000 per unit for in-depot charges which can charge two buses at a time, and $1.5 million per opportunity charger which can each charge 10 buses on-street and up to 30 buses in the depot.

For the FCEB option, “the incremental cost of the bus over that of a comparable diesel bus can reach $1 million.”

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Regardless of the approach, the study found that there are significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions as compared to diesel buses. Additionally, “almost every option assessed results in an annual fuel cost savings as compared to the current diesel fleet.”

However, the report notes that the savings calculations are based on an entire fleet and it would take “a significant period of time to accumulate savings of this magnitude given the replacement cycles of buses.”

“We build our financial plan around a 12-year useful life of a diesel bus. We look at retiring them at the 12-year point,” Paleczny explained.

“Doing something sooner than that, you’re going to end up with a bus you haven’t got that value out of it and the resale market, you’re not going to get what that difference in value would be if you tried to resell it… There just isn’t a market for used buses.”

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Speaking to Global News before the meeting, Paleczny said the next step involves the completion of a detailed Electric Bus Implementation Plan.

“What we’re asking the commission for tonight is really just direction to move ahead with that implementation plan, which would be a more definitive path forward but would also include the cost implications,” Paleczny said.

“That needs to be in front of the commission, but that also needs to be in front of council, because if we don’t have stakeholder buy-in for this full transition, it makes little sense to do a pilot because even doing a pilot requires infrastructure to charge those buses.”

At Wednesday’s meeting, commissioners endorsed staff directives to receive the report, to have administration provide a summary for the City of London’s civic works committee, and to have administration issue a request for proposal for the completion of an implementation plan.

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The commissioners also approved recommendations to have the implementation report received by June 2021 and to have the LTC work with city staff and London Hydro to find funding sources.

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