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Quebec is leading the country’s adoption of electric buses, a move that will improve air quality and lower greenhouse gas emissions that cause global heating.

To achieve its net-zero emissions target, last month the government of Quebec announced it is adding 1,229 electric buses to its transit network at a cost of more than $1.8 billion. It is North America’s largest electric bus project and is being done in partnership with the federal government, which kicked in $780 million for the purchase from Canadian bus manufacturer Nova Bus.

Nova Bus estimates there are around 20,000 public transit buses currently in service in Canada, about 10 per cent of which are entirely electric.

Other provinces are also inching toward the switch to electric buses.

There are roughly 2,000 buses operating in Metro Vancouver, where 35 per cent of emissions come from road transportation. The recently released B.C. Medium- and Heavy-Duty Zero-Emission Vehicles: 2023 consultation paper, proposes that 50 per cent of new bus purchases between 2026 and 2028 be zero-emission buses, with 100 per cent of purchases being emission-free starting in 2029 and beyond, reads a statement from the Ministry of Transportation and Infrastructure.

“In our CleanBC roadmap to 2030, we committed to implementing regulated zero-emission requirements for medium- and heavy-duty vehicles, including buses, aligned with California’s ZEV (zero-emission vehicle) requirements,” reads the statement.

According to the ministry, the consultation paper also proposes requirements for all transit agencies to have zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) make up 41 per cent of their fleet by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2040. B.C. contributed $2.4 billion to the 2022 investment plan of TransLink, Metro Vancouver’s transportation network. That plan includes replacing more than a third of its existing diesel bus fleet with more than 500 electric buses and buses that run on renewable fuel, the ministry added in the statement.

This month, the Ontario government brought two new fully electric zero-emission GO buses into service for the first time as part of its plan to support electric vehicles, reduce emissions and expand clean transit options across the Greater Golden Horseshoe, a region in southern Ontario home to 10 million people.

“This significant milestone is part of our government’s plan to be a global leader in the electric vehicle revolution,” reads a statement sent to Canada’s National Observer by the Ontario Ministry of Transportation. “Ontario is building a strong electric vehicle supply chain, securing investments in electric vehicles and battery manufacturing, and getting more electric vehicles on the road.”

Transportation in Canada released more than 165 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2021, an increase of nearly three per cent over the year before, according to Statistics Canada. #ElectricBuses

Road transportation is by far the largest source of transportation emissions in Canada.

Transportation in Canada released more than 165 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere in 2021, an increase of nearly three per cent over the year before, according to Statistics Canada. Between 1990 and 2021, annual transportation emissions in Canada increased by more than 30 per cent.

The impetus behind Quebec’s large electric bus purchase was to draw down emissions.

“Public transit is one of the key elements in the sustainable mobility of people and the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions,” Geneviève Guilbault, Quebec’s deputy premier and minister of transport and sustainable mobility, said in a statement sent to Canada’s National Observer by Nova Bus.

“With this investment of more than $1.1 billion, the government is responding in order to help achieve a low-carbon Quebec. Ultimately, the entire population of Quebec will be able to benefit from the advantages of these electric buses."

The lifespan of Quebec’s new electric buses is at least 16 years, said Christos Kritsidimas, head of legal, public affairs and external communications at Nova Bus. Nova Bus ZEVs “can travel more than 300 kilometres on a single charge, depending on various factors such as temperature, driving mode, the age and state of the batteries, geography and charging modes, among other things,” Kritsidimas said.

Experts say electrifying buses will lead to important gains in local air quality around bus corridors and reduce CO2 emissions by 1.4 million tonnes every year. In addition to greenhouse gas emissions, transit buses, which are primarily powered by diesel, are also significant sources of air pollutants like nitrogen oxides and particulate matter.

Adam Thorn, director of the Pembina Institute's transportation program, told Canada’s National Observer that zero-emission buses promise substantial savings for Canada in health costs associated with diesel exhaust.

“As per Health Canada, exposure to diesel exhaust from buses and other medium and heavy-duty vehicles has been linked to increases in the incidence of asthma, cancer and other respiratory diseases,” said Thorn. “In Canada, local air pollution ... due to diesel exhaust contributes to more than 15,000 premature deaths a year, and pollution-induced health-related economic costs amount to $120 billion (or about six per cent of the country’s GDP).” Between five and 10 per cent of this can be avoided by shifting to zero-emission buses, Thorn added.

Electric buses provide additional societal benefits that are often ignored, said Marianne Hatzopoulou, a professor in the University of Toronto’s Department of Civil and Mineral Engineering and director of Positive Zero Transport Futures.

“There is evidence that traffic-related air pollution affects disadvantaged communities the most. Bus electrification can help reduce these disparities,” Hatzopoulou said.

Thorn said there are policy steps the government can take to speed the large electric vehicle conversion. He recommends the federal government implement a staggered zero-emission vehicle sales standard, starting with school and transit buses. This would require automakers to produce zero-emission buses at a faster pace so that most buses being sold would be electric by 2030, he said.

“The policies that are currently in place, including the carbon tax, the Clean Fuel Regulation and various provincial policies, are not sufficient by themselves for Canada to reach our net-zero commitments for 2030, let alone net-zero emissions by 2050,” Thorn said.

Other strong climate policies, including a zero-emission vehicle sales mandate, would help Canada achieve its commitments, he added.

The federal government has provided significant support to electrify public transit across the country, Caleb Spassov, communications specialist for Infrastructure Canada, said. And there is more to come.

“Over the next five years, we will support the purchase of 5,000 zero-emission buses. With Canada generating approximately 82 per cent of its electricity from zero-emission power sources, electrifying our transportation sector is key to reducing GHG emissions and reaching our climate objectives,” said Spassov.

In addition, through the Zero Emission Transit Fund, the federal government is investing $2.75 billion to help public transit and school bus operators plan for electrification, purchase zero-emission buses and build supporting infrastructure such as chargers and facility upgrades, Spassov said.

This story was produced in partnership with Journalists for Human Rights for the Afghan Journalists-in-Residence program funded by the Meta Journalism Project.

Updates and corrections

| Corrections policy
May 26, 2023, 02:41 am

This story has been corrected to reflect that the zero emissions targets for buses in B.C. is still in the discussion stage.

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