Winnipeg to purchase 100 electric buses, overhaul transit system
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Jul 19, 2022
Josh Kozelj

The prairie city is set to receive over $500 million in funding from three levels of government in an attempt to jumpstart an EV transit system

The City of Winnipeg is moving ahead with plans to purchase electric buses and revamp its transit system after securing funding from three levels of government.

The prairie city is set to receive over $500 million in funding from three levels of government in an attempt to jumpstart a local EV transit system

The City of Winnipeg is moving ahead with plans to purchase electric buses and revamp its transit system after securing funding from three levels of government.

Last week, the federal, provincial and municipal governments pledged $509 million to Winnipeg Transit. The money will go towards a redesign of Winnipeg Transit’s entire network with the acquisition of 100 electric buses, 135 diesel buses, charging infrastructure and a new garage.

“Today marks a significant step in transforming Winnipeg’s public transit system for a future population of a million people,” Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman said in a press release.

“With over half a billion dollars in tri-level investments, Winnipeg Transit will implement critical elements of an entirely new transit network that will better respond to the needs of transit riders including transitioning to zero-emission buses.”

The federal government is footing most of the bill with investments of up to $203 million. The province and city will provide $169 and $135 million, respectively.

Overhauling the route system—with EVs

Winnipeg Transit has been looking to modify the city’s transit system since 2018.

Bjorn Radstrom, the city’s manager of transit service development, says Winnipeg’s current route network is based on small modifications over a period of decades. However, there was never a thorough redesign to accommodate the city’s expanding population.

“We as a city have never gone back and taken a complete look at how we can redesign the network to reflect what the city is now and what the plans are for the next 30, 40, 50 years,” Radstrom said in an interview with Electric Autonomy Canada.

Last year, Winnipeg Transit unveiled a master plan that will serve as a roadmap to update its network. Included in the plan is a promise to transition the city to a full zero-emission
bus fleet by 2050.

“As we expand over the next while, we know we want to be a zero emission system,” Radstrom said.

In April, Electric Autonomy reported that Winnipeg was looking to add over 100 zero-emission buses by 2027. With the latest funding announcement, the city is now forging ahead with that plan. Its first order will be for 16 zero-emission buses: four 40- and four
60-foot battery electric buses and the same number of 40- and 60-foot fuel cell vehicles. The goal is to have those vehicles in service in 2024.

“Putting them into application is really going to tell us how much they work in our environment and our specific duty cycles,” Erin Cooke, Winnipeg’s manager of the bus electrification program said in an interview with Electric Autonomy.

The latest venture into electric buses isn’t the first time Winnipeg has explored the possibility of zero-emission transit. The city ran a battery electric bus pilot project with New Flyer, a local e-bus manufacturer, from 2014 to 2018.

The pilot taught the city the importance of creating reliable charging infrastructure and what strategies were viable. In that initial test, the city used fixed chargers on route — meaning a bus had to be at a charger at a specific time and wait to recharge. That logistical hurdle made it difficult for the city to fully adopt electric buses without increasing its fleet size and securing more funding.

“If we were doing the route fully with electric buses, we’d have to add one extra bus in order to make sure that while that bus was at the charger, we would still be able to maintain our service at regular levels,” Cooke said.

Another takeaway from the trial was how to educate drivers on the similarities and differences of operating an e-bus. With the new fleet, Cooke hopes the drivers won’t have to treat the buses any differently and that they won’t be viewed as “a special product.”

“The goal is to have them as a standard bus,” Cooke said. “The look, the feel of them for the driver is exactly the same.

When will all the new buses be rolled out? 

Winnipeg is taking a phased approach to deploying the electric buses. 

The city is in the process of sending a request for proposal for the first 16 buses and will choose a manufacturer.

Winnipeg will then purchase the remaining 70 buses over the next two to three years, Cooke said. Depending on financing, the earliest the city could roll out all the buses would be 2035.

The city is also working on putting supports in place for the zero-emission fleet.

The electric battery buses will be charged at one of the city’s three garages, while the fuel cell vehicles will be charged in an outdoor parking lot. There are no plans yet to use on-route charging, but that could change depending on technological advancements. 

“We’ve sort of taken a lower-cost infrastructure plan just for evaluating before we invest in the top-of-the-line, you know, ‘Cadillac’ of charging solutions,” Cooke said. 

The city also has a plan to open a new garage that is fitted with the necessary charging equipment, which will be the focus of its zero-emission fleet initially, Cooke said.

“In terms of our rollout plan, we have this new garage we’re planning to open, and that will be the focus of our zero-emission fleet initially — because we’re able to get a new garage with the power equipment requirements that we need for a zero-emission fleet,” Cooke said. 

Cooke expects the 40-foot battery electric buses will be placed on routes that are about 14 hours long, and the 60-foot buses will be put on eight-hour legs. The fuel cell vehicles are expected to run on 22-hour routes.

“We’re rolling it out that way, sort of selectively, making sure the drivers that can be using the buses are trained to use them,” Cooke said. “But we’re not necessarily restricting them to specific routes.”

Cooke believes the new transit and zero-emission plan will put Winnipeg back on the electrification map.

“We were an early leader in electrification and we stepped back a bit,” he said, noting that Winnipeg first experimented with e-buses eight years ago. “But this puts us back on pace to be level with more of the most aggressive transit agencies in Canada right now.”

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