As the Quebec government pushes to electrify the provincial school bus fleet with a $250 million plan, the purchase of the Blue Bird buses will qualify for up to $4.5 million in subsidies
With a new school year underway, Girardin Blue Bird has secured a deal with Autobus Granby, a regional operator, to deliver 30 electric Blue Bird Vision school buses to serve the Val-des-Cerfs School Service Centre, which covers the regions of Granby, Bromont, Waterloo, Shefford and Roxton Pond.
Girardin, based in Drummonville, Que., is a school bus manufacturer and distributor in Eastern Canada of Blue Bird school buses. The deployment of these buses will be spread over three years, with the first 21, 72-passenger buses expected to be placed in service for this school year. Once all 30 buses are up and running, officials estimate they will prevent about 700 tonnes of green gas emissions each year.
“Autobus Granby is proud of this decision which will have a beneficial effect on the reduction of GHG’s and the well-being of future generations,” said the director of Autobus Granby, Mario Fontaine, as part of the announcement.
Quebec’s school bus electrification plans
This April, the Quebec government announced it would invest $250 million over three years to accelerate the electrification of school transportation. The province is aiming to phase out diesel-engine buses, bring nearly 2,600 electric school buses to Quebec roads by 2024 and have 64 per cent of the fleet electrified by 2030, which will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 800,000 tonnes.
To help achieve this goal, as part of the ministry of transportation’s 2021-2024 School Transportation Electrification Program, it is offering subsidies of up to $150,000 per bus sold between April 2021 to March 2022; $125,0000 per bus between April 2022 to March 2023; and $100,000 per bus between April 2023 to March 2024.
For Autobus Granby, this means that it will receive $4.5 million in financial assistance to help underwrite the total $11-million cost of the order from Girardin.
“Made in Canada” fleets
But with these government subsidies, comes a significant caveat with the program — only vehicles that are built in Canada may qualify.
The current school bus market in Quebec includes two manufacturers, Girardin and Lion Electric, and two other distributors, Autobus Thomas and Leeds Transit. But because of the “made in Canada” regulations, only Girardin and Lion Electric buses purchases can get financial assistance from the Quebec government’s incentives.
Michel Daneault, vice-president of Girardin Autobus, adds that while the Blue Bird buses in this deal are built in the U.S. (Girardin makes a line of smaller, Micro Bird buses locally), they qualify for the Quebec subsidy because of a loophole that allows electric bus dealer/manufacturers to import and “sell 200 big buses manufactured from another country,” explains Daneault, in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada. “That’s why we have the possibility to sell 200 [of our Blue Bird] buses for the 2021-2022 school year.”
Looking to the future
Moving forward, the Girardin is hoping to continue to promote and sell high volumes of electric buses and commit to the fight against the climate crises through electrification of transportation.
“Presently, Lion Electric buses have about four per cent of the market share, and the rest of the shares are spread between the rest — Girardin, Autobus Thomas and Leeds Transit,” says Daneault. “So far, Girardin is number one with close to 60 per cent of the [total school bus] market share. Our goal right now, [as the market moves to electric] is to stay at our position and to keep our market share because we built this position for 62 years and we want to continue to build on it.”