After a successful 12-month electric bus pilot, the city of Saskatoon has concluded it can save up to $66 million if it replaces its public transit fleet with 100 per cent electric buses
The city of Saskatoon is adding two new electric buses instead of four diesel buses as part of its public transport fleet, after a successful end to a year-long pilot project testing the performance of an electric bus.
City staff presented the pilot’s findings to a council committee meeting held virtually on March 7. Data from the pilot, which ran between Oct. 2020 and Sept. 2021, collected by the Saskatchewan Research Council (SRC), showed that the electric bus — a leased BYD model — operated just as well (or possibly better) than diesel buses in cold weather.
“The administration believes the move to battery electric buses (BEBs) for both financial and environmental reasons will be difficult no matter when the decision is made. There will always be limited funds and a high degree of urgency for fleet replacement,” said Terry Schmidt, general manager of transportation and construction at the city of Saskatoon, during the meeting. “But considering all factors the administration believes that moving to be BEBs now makes sense because this investment will lower the long-term cost of the city and provide for better performance in cold weather.”
As part of the city’s Low Emissions Community plan, Saskatoon is aiming to reduce emissions by 40 per cent below 2014 levels by 2023 and 80 per cent by 2050. City officials have already announced that they do not expect to achieve the 2023 target, but it’s clear from the pilot project that adding electric buses to its public transit fleet will help it reach future emissions goals.
The report found that the pilot e-bus was estimated to have 47 per cent lower greenhouse gas emissions than a diesel bus. As well, it is expected that every e-bus will reduce municipal fleet GHG emissions by 39.3 tonnes per year over 50,000 kilometres of travel.
Purchasing electric instead of diesel buses will cost Saskatoon Transit $540,000 more per bus, but the report’s analysis shows that the operating costs to maintain the buses decreases significantly.
The annual maintenance and fuel costs of a diesel bus were found to be around $43,000 and $29,000, respectively. Corresponding costs for an electric bus are estimated to be $9,000 in maintenance and $6,990 in charging annually.
The total cost of ownership of a diesel bus travelling 50,000 kms per year for an 18-year period would cost the city under $2 million compared to about $1.5 million for an electric bus. This means that approximately $470,000 can be saved over the total life of the bus, or a savings of 24 per cent, added Schmidt.
Additionally, if Saskatoon Transit were to convert its entire public transport fleet of 140 buses, that would mean a savings of $66 million over the fleet’s lifetime, or approximately $3.6 million annually.
Problems in the pilot
Before the pilot launched, one of the biggest question marks around the e-bus was: can it survive the climate? Saskatoon has one of the most extreme temperature swings in North America — seeing highs of 40 degrees in the summer and plunging to minus 40 degrees in the winter.
The pilot project demonstrated that not only could the electric bus handle the extreme climate, but its battery also showed no degradation over the 12 months. The highest consumption month was February 2021 (two days temperatures dropped to minus 40 degrees and half a dozen days were minus 35 degrees and below). The lowest consumption month was May.
“The effective range of the battery per charge was between 175 and 361 km,” reads the report. “On average, the bus was driven 75 km in-between charging sessions”
During the council meeting, questions from committee members revealed that the pilot project experienced a couple of issues.
James McDonald, director of transit for the city of Saskatoon explained that the pilot’s electric BYD K9MC 40-foot bus was out of service twice. The first happened when the vehicle’s fire suppression system was inoperable and the other was when the windshield cracked. This resulted in the electric bus travelling a total distance of 15,497 km throughout the entire demonstration as opposed to a planned 50,000 km.
“There are a number of issues like that with this particular brand of bus that caused us to not get what we wanted out of it, which is all very good information for us to understand the parts supply chain for that particular brand,” said McDonald.
Overall, the report found that the performance of the e-bus during the trial was “reliable” and the SRC concluded that converting the bus fleet to electric would be a “viable option” for Saskatoon Transit.
Plans to transition entire fleet
Despite the hiccups, Saskatoon mayor Charlie Clark expressed his belief in the significance of the results and the benefits it will bring to the city.
“In addition to the significant savings over time, we have buses that will have lower noise, lower odour and easier Wifi access for passengers on transit. We are always as a council looking to try and find ways to be more cost-effective, as well as we want to do our part to reduce our emissions. I actually found the results [from the report] to be even more significant than I expected,” said Clark.
If their purchase is officially approved by the council, the two new electric buses for Saskatoon Transit could be delivered as early as 2023, with funding from the $2.64-million transit fleet replacement fund that was approved in the city’s 2022 budget.
In the meantime, city staff will submit a report to the council in the second quarter of this year with more details on moving to electric buses. Schmidt said it will inform the city’s strategy for fleet conversion.
Converting its full bus fleet to electric would require $12 million from the city’s budget per year. The transit company is looking at applying to the federal government’s Zero Emission Transit Fund to help alleviate costs.