City eyes more hybrid buses
Wireless electric trolleys possible
By MARK NEWMAN, NEWS STAFF
Feb 23, 2011
Could Hamilton bus riders see a return to electric trolleys in the future? According to Don Hull, the city’s director of transit, the answer could be yes. Hull noted St. Eustache, Que.-based Nova Bus plans to begin offering fully electric buses by 2017 and the city will certainly be looking at that option when it’s time to make its annual bus replacement order.
“All-electric is only a concept right now,” said Hull, who noted that unlike the old trolleys there will be no overhead wires as the buses run on rechargeable battery power.
Nova Bus spokesperson Nadine Bernard confirmed the company is developing an all-electric bus.
“It’s pretty new stuff,” said Bernard, who added the unit cost per bus has yet to be determined.
“We want to be competitive with what’s on the market now,” said Bernard, referring to diesel-electric hybrid buses that cost between $600,000 and $650,000.
Hull said the city replaces about 17 buses in the 220-vehicle fleet each year as they come to the end of their 12-year life span.
The city is expected to spend in the neighbourhood of $9 million on new buses this year.
That includes a $300,000 to $400,000 savings the city will receive as part of the Metrolinx bulk purchasing system that includes 13 other municipalities.
Hull said the province no longer provides a 33-per-cent subsidy cash for new buses.
Transit officials are mulling over whether to recommend that city council purchase diesel buses with electric engine cooling fans or more diesel-electric hybrid buses and add electric fans to the remainder of the diesel fleet.
A report to council is expected this summer.
Hull noted shifting to fans that are run off batteries rather than diesel could save the city up to 30 per cent in fuel costs which translates into about $1.5 million per year.
While a diesel bus with an electric fan could cost as much as $450,000 compared to as much as $650,000 for a hybrid bus, Hull noted the city also has to take into account that hybrid buses require less overall maintenance, particularly for big ticket items such as engines and transmissions and the batteries on the hybrids are lasting longer than the six years originally anticipated.
Hull said that when all costs are considered the hybrid buses are about 10 cents per kilometre less expensive to run than diesel buses.
“It’s safe to say that for 2011, we’ll definitely be recommending a conversion from hydraulic to electric wherever possible and potentially recommending that some or all the replacement fleet be hybrid,” Hull said.
As far as the environment is concerned, Hull noted both kinds of buses have very low emissions.
“Right now … transit only emits one per cent of all (greenhouse) emissions from all sources,” said Hull, who added the days of the big clouds of black smoke belching from bus tailpipes are long gone.
The city began purchasing hybrid buses in 2006 and currently has 28 of them. Twenty-five articulated hybrid buses run between Eastgate Square and McMaster University and between the John C. Munro-Hamilton International Airport and the downtown.
In 2004, city council agreed to begin phasing out natural gas-powered buses.
Even with rising world oil prices, Hull noted, natural gas buses cost about $1 per kilometre to operate as opposed to 80 cents per kilometre for diesel buses.
In addition, Hull noted diesel buses run much cleaner than a decade ago and any move to return to natural gas would mean the city would have to replace the natural gas pumping station at the Mountain transit garage on Upper James.
Hull said replacement parts for the station that was built in the mid-’90s are no longer available and the cost of building a new one would likely be several million dollars.
The HSR fleet includes 75 natural gas buses and 17 of them will be replaced this year.