Interviewees, Pierre and Patrick, in front of their electric school bus

In an exclusive video interview, Transdev and Lion Electric explain how Quebec’s trio of attributes — clean energy, local manufacture, government incentives — paved the way for the deal, enabling Transdev to achieve a 99 per cent emission reduction with these vehicles

Last week, Transdev Canada, a Quebec-based subsidiary of the French international public transportation operator, announced a $4.5-million purchase of 27 electric school buses from Lion Electric, a Canadian electric truck and bus manufacturer based in Saint-Jérôme, Que.

The first of the new buses will go into service this September. Added to the four Lion electric school buses Transdev already operates, this deal makes Transdev the largest private operator of electric school buses in North America. 

In an exclusive interview with Electric Autonomy Canada, Pierre Zivec, Transdev Canada’s vice-president of performance and project director for electrification, says the acquisition was motivated by three factors: Quebec’s clean electricity production, which is 99 per cent hydroelectric; provincial incentives that help offset the product’s higher up-front cost; and the ability to build on a relationship with a local manufacturer.

Watch the full interview on our Youtube channel

Right across the river

“One of the major advantages of working with Lion is that we just have to cross the St. Lawrence [River] to be able to meet,” Zivec says. “That brings us a capacity to exchange [ideas and experience].”

In addition, working with Lion on their earlier deal gives them confidence in the vehicles and Lion’s support. “We are doing a service, so we need those buses to be reliable,” says Zivec.

Patrick Gervais, vice-president of marketing and communications for Lion Electric, says that the company’s use of available technology has allowed its buses’ range to increase to 250 kilometres travel on a single charge from the 100 kilometres available five years ago, when Lion debuted its first electric school bus. 

“A lot of people are thinking that heavy-duty electrification of transportation is going to be in five years from now, but it’s happening now,” Gervais said. “It’s there, it’s available, it works.”

“You will be surprised, even in countries that are producing electricity that is not as clean as Canada and Quebec it’s still very good for the environment to go electric”

Pierre Zivec, Vice President Performance, Transdev Canada

National significance

While important for the companies involved, Ben Sharpe, a senior researcher and Canada regional lead with the Washington, D.C.-based International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), says the deal is also a “really important development” for Canada’s domestic EV manufacturing ambitions.

“The fact that Lion, a Quebec-based manufacturer, is providing the electric buses shows that Canada can play a vital role in electric vehicle production in North America and globally,” says Sharpe.

In fact, Zivec’s remarks about Quebec’s “three factors” stand as a perfect use case for the policy arguments outlined in the ICCT’s recent report on Canada’s role in the electric vehicle transition, done jointly with the Pembina Institute. That study argues that linking local manufacturing and job creation with government incentives that boost sales and investment is critical to the development of a strong domestic EV industry.

But it’s not a recipe — or an opportunity — exclusive to Quebec. Ontario also has a very clean electricity grid, for example, as well as a massive existing base of expertise in traditional automotive production.

“The main barrier is sometimes the political decision to seize the long term benefits”

Pierre Zivec, Vice President Performance, Transdev Canada

“The fact that local policymakers were instrumental in bringing this electric school bus procurement to fruition speaks to the essential role of incentives and the need for this type of policy support from all levels of government,” says Sharpe.

To learn more about the deal and what it means for electrified mass transportation in Quebec and Canada, watch the full interview using the embedded viewer above.