Burlington busses on road
London Transit Commission and Burlington Transit will be the first transit agencies participating in CUTRIC’s new Zero Emissions Bus joint procurement initiative (CUTZEB). The program aims to support small- to mid-sized transit agencies in the procurement of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses. Photo: @BurlONTransit/Twitter

CUTRIC’s new zero-emission bus procurement initiative, CUTZEB, is designed to be a one-stop-shop solution for small- and medium-sized transit agencies to electrify their fleets

The Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) is looking to simplify the transition to zero-emission buses with the launch of the Canadian Urban Transit Zero Emissions Bus joint procurement initiative (CUTZEB).

CUTZEB is a non-profit spin-off corporation of CUTRIC. It aims to support small- to mid-sized transit agencies in the procurement of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses. It will also help establish corresponding charging and fuelling infrastructure to support the fleets.

“CUTZEB is the only joint procurement [program] in Canada that integrates buses and chargers and all of the stuff in between like civil works, installations and maintenance,” says Josipa Petrunic, president and CEO of CUTRIC and CUTZEB in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

According to the CUTZEB website, the joint procurement initiative’s role will be to:

  • Expedite commercial-scale deployment of zero-emission technologies by facilitating bulk purchases of equipment and energy supply for multiple transit agencies across the country;
  • Coordinate procurements based on local operational requirements of participating transit agencies; and
  • Standardize technical requirements through studies on the feasibility and implementation of zero-emissions buses (ZEBs) in order to enable procurement, deployment, capital cost savings and risk management for the transit authority.

London and Burlington transit agencies selected

For most public transit agencies, the transition to zero-emission bus fleets is a significant financial and technical challenge to undertake.

By offering bundled services CUTZEB can streamline the experience for more fleets.

“What we’re trying to do in this joint procurement is get a larger purchase [of buses] to reduce the cost, but, ultimately, to reduce the complexity,” says Petrunic.

“We don’t expect that the price point on its own is going to be the governing factor. What we’re trying to do here is minimize complexity and ensure the system works. The best bid will be ultimately the bid that delivers the whole thing at the highest quality.”

CUTZEB’s first round of joint procurement is already underway. London Transit Commission and Burlington Transit, both in Ontario, are the first transit agencies participating in the program.

“They chose CUTZEB and they chose to be the first customer saying, ‘We can’t do it alone. We definitely need strength in numbers. We need technical experts to help us figure out what we need to buy to make it work,'” says Petrunic.

Over the past couple of years, CUTRIC has completed much of the feasibility work and route modelling for London and Burlington. This determines where the potential opportunities lie in electrifying both cities’ bus fleets.

By 2024, London Transit Commission is looking to add 10 electric buses to its fleet, along with six depot chargers. Meanwhile, Burlington Transit wants to purchase four electric buses and the necessary infrastructure to replace four diesel buses.

Finding the right suppliers

CUTZEB’s next steps in the joint procurement process are to release a public tender and request for proposals (RFP). This will trigger a search for companies to supply the transit agencies with everything they’ll need to go electric.

CUTZEB is asking for manufacturers of battery electric buses and chargers, as well as suppliers of civil works and infrastructure, to come together and form consortiums to submit their bids.

“[Our hope and expectation] is that the marketplace will self-organize and partnerships will form. We expect probably four or five really good consortium submissions going into this competitive process,” says Petrunic.

“The procurement round one is set up on a winner-take-all model.”

The consortium that wins the bid, explains Petrunic, will be the exclusive supplier for London and Burlington’s electric transit fleet.

The successful bidder will be chosen based on CUTZEB’s specific evaluation criteria. Suppliers must show how well they can produce and deliver the technology CUTZEB is requesting, their experiences deploying the technology and how many times have they deployed this technology within a partnership format.

Assessment teams comprised of members from CUTRIC, London and Burlington Transit, utility representatives and technical assessors from independent transit agencies with expertise in deploying ZEBs in fleets, will be scoring each consortium based on those criteria and decide the winner.

CUTZEB aims to have the outcome of the RFP and the winning bid to purchase integrated systems of buses, charging stations and related equipment signed in March 2024.

Reaching government targets

Petrunic says her goal for CUTZEB is to complete multiple rounds of joint procurements over the next 10 years. This will, she says, support the government’s zero-emission bus targets.

The Canadian government wants 5,000 zero-emission transit buses on the road by 2026.

So far there are only 208 electric transit buses in service out of roughly 16,000 combustion buses across Canada. This is according to CUTRIC’s zero-emission buses database published at the end of 2022.

For any transit agency interested in participating in future joint procurement rounds, CUTZEB will evaluate how ready they are to convert their fleet to zero emissions.

“The procurement CUTZEB body is set up to work with transit agencies, where city councils and mayors have said, ‘thou shalt go electric.’ They’ve done their feasibility analysis and planning. They know what can work, what won’t work,” says Petrunic. “If they haven’t gotten those two things, they’re not ready for joint procurement.”

Round two of the joint procurement initiative will open around September this year, says Petrunic. At that stage three to four more transit agencies will be joining the program.

“I would expect we’re going to have at least five to seven rounds in the next five to seven years to get to that full zero-emissions goal. If we can ramp it up faster, we will. If we learned that it’s a little bit more complicated than we expected we’ll slow it down,” says Petrunic.

“It may even turn out that we can do two to three rounds in parallel in the future. So, one for electric buses and one for fuel cell buses at the same time.”