Frequently Asked Questions

Detailed information is available on our e-Bus Background Page

Transport Evolved has a short video on why e-buses are so important, we have included it at the bottom of this page – click here.

Batteries and Charging

What is the lifetime of the batteries?

Manufacturers warranties are now for 12 year, so it is reasonable to expect that e-Bus batteries will last about 12 years before loss of capacity will impact the operation of the bus.
Batteries removed from e-buses still have many years of useful life in grid storage, an essential part of the charging system for the buses. After a further 10-15 years, batteries will be recycled.

Diesel buses require engine and transmission replacements during their operational life, replacement of batteries in e-buses is a simpler process.

How long does it take to charge the bus?

Charge time is a factor of battery size and charging capability. Current buses can charge at the garage at between 50 and 100kW. This is fast enough to ensure that buses can be charged in 4-5 hours. Short range buses use overhead charging on the street at up to 350kW, charging can take as little as 5-10 minutes at turn rounds at the end of routes. This system has been deployed in Montreal for a small test route. As battery costs are falling, on-street charging will likely not be required in the future as a long range bus can work a full shift and then charge overnight or between shifts in the day.

Are the batteries toxic?

Lithium ion batteries are non-toxic and can be safely disposed of in landfills.  Facilities exist today to recycle lithium batteries.

Lithium ion battery fires do have toxic fumes and care has to be taken when fighting the fire.  Thankfully EVs are far less likely to have fires than a gas or diesel vehicle.

 

What is the environmental impact of the batteries?

Unlike fuels, the environmental costs of an e-Bus’s battery are a one-time event.  The battery will be used for about 12 years in the bus and then they can be moved to provide fixed storage to support bus charging.  This second life could last 10-20 years.  Volvo is using former bus batteries for solar storage in Gothenburg.

Modern EV batteries are very similar to batteries found in cell phones and other household devices.  The most common chemistry, Lithium Ion, includes common elements such as lithium, nickel and cobalt.  Cobalt has a poor reputation as a lot of supply comes from conflict zones and is not mined responsibly.   Steps are being made to reduce the amount of cobalt in lithium batteries and some buses use lithium-Fe which has no cobalt. Tesla and Panasonic are  close to eliminating cobalt from their batteries.

Canada is rich in all the metals required for battery production, including cobalt. As the price for these metals raises, Canada’s production is set to increase.

Unlike lead acid or alkaline batteries, Lithium batteries are non-toxic and can be disposed in a land-fill.  Battery recycling is a developing industry and it is now possible to recycle Li ion batteries economically.

Can the batteries of an electric bus be recycled when they can’t be used on the bus any longer?

Yes, but before they are recycled, bus batteries will be used for power storage on site. This “second life” can extend the service life of the battery from 12 years on the bus to perhaps 20 or 25 years. Once the battery is no longer suitable for storage, the battery will be recycled and the component metals reused. This technology exists now but is not in mass use as current EV batteries are lasting much longer than was originally thought. Recently a Tesla Model X exceeded 560,000 km / 350,000 mile on its original battery. https://insideevs.com/tesla-model-x-350000-miles-original-battery/

Can an e-bus be charged in the rain or snow?

Yes! All EV chargers are protected and suitable for all weathers. On-route charging using overhead pantographs are designed to operate in rain and snow. With long range buses charged at the garage, they will be indoor and protected from the worst of the weather.

Can buses charge as they drive, e.g. overhead power lines like trams and trains?

Trolley buses are powered by overhead wires and there are models that also have batteries as a trolley bus/e-bus hybrid. Ottawa does not have the infrastructure to support trolley buses so this is not applicable here. Vancouver has an extensive trolley network and is looking at adding battery trolley buses to extend the service off the network. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trolley_buses_in_Vancouver

e-Bus Performance

What makes an e-Bus more reliable than a diesel bus?

e-Buses are more reliable, meaning more time on the road, less time in the shop for repairs . Fleet availability is improved when you can rely on approximately 90% of the buses to be on the road on any given day (vs 80% today).

This is mainly because electric motors are much simpler than diesel engines. They have significantly less parts to break down. There are no turbo’s, radiators, exhaust systems etc…you don’t have to fix something you don’t have!

As with most EVs, brakes last 2-4 times longer as most of the braking is done with regeneration by the motor and battery.

Both internal combustion engines and electric motors have been around for a hundred or more years, they are not new technology. What’s new is our ability now to take the power source with us (see Batteries and Charging). This technology has about a ten year track record in the e-bus market and performs well under all weather conditions.

 

How do e-buses perform in winter?

Better than diesel buses! Diesel engines do not like the cold, they are hard to start and OC Transpo sometimes has to idle many buses overnight to make sure they will start in the morning.  e-Buses will start and work well in the cold.  Range can be reduced by the cold but that is mainly due to heating the cabin.  e-Buses can be fitted with diesel heaters if the battery capacity is needed for range.

60ft articulated e-Buses have motors on 2 axles which will mean an end to pushing the bus on snowy days.

How far does an OC Transpo bus travel and can an e-bus do the same distance?

In 2016 the average OC Transpo bus traveled about 275 km on a normal weekday. This number comes from making some assumptions based on the annual bus use, how many buses are used each day and taking account weekend service.

e-Buses come with ranges from 40km to over 600km depending on battery size. Long range buses can take on work and routes currently served by diesel buses.  Charging is done overnight or in the middle of the day between morning and evening service.

Short range buses are designed to be charged on-route using overhead chargers such as Oppcharge This allows buses to operate 24 hours a day on route with a short break for charging every 30 minutes.  This is great for shuttle operations and short routes with frequent service. The downside is the need for expensive chargers located at spots on the route.  This limits flexibility but allow buses to have much smaller batteries.

Can e-buses climb hills?

Yes!  Electric buses can have better hill climbing capabilities than diesel buses, what’s more they can recover some of the energy used to climb a hill on the way back down.

For example, Park City UT has 6 Proterra e-buses serving ski hills in the area.  Here is a Proterra bus in Park City.

Who makes e-Buses, are they available in Canada?

 

OCTranspo’s current suppliers, New Flyer, Nova and Alexander Dennis all make electric versions of the buses now in service. Proterra, BYD and others provide more choices.  There is a list of manufacturers here

What happens if the power goes out?

Power failures, blackouts and other issues with the delivery of electricity for charging are a concern and have to be planned for.  Let’s take a look at what might be done to help with different kinds of power issues.

For context, the Ottawa Hospital has generators that can take 1/3 of the load of each site and they would bring in rental generators if an outage went longer than a few hours.

The Confederation Line has 9 power connections to the grid and can continue operation if one of the connections fails.  A city wide outage would stop all operations.

In the large part it all depends on how much money is spent on providing a solution vs the probability of an event.

Local Failure at a Garage

As part of optimising the cost of charging, each garage should have a battery bank that can take the load of the garage for a couple of hours.  This might also include a backup generator to stretch the capacity of the batteries. This system would be capable of dealing with short power outages with no issues.  For longer outages, rental generators could be sourced.  Larger generators are capable of charging about 200 buses per day.

To further reduce the possibility of a power outage, power can be supplied to the garage on two separate feeds from the grid to reduce the chance of one failure taking out the site as a whole.

In the case of a catastrophic event such as a fire or major weather event such as last year’s tornados, the buses could be moved to other garages for charging.  This would have some impact on service but should not be a major disruption as each bus will take about 4 hours to charge and by cycling buses through the chargers the entire fleet should be able to be charged overnight.  It is likely that parking the buses would be the major problem, not charging them.

Weather Disruption of the Power Grid

The Tornados in 2018 and the ice storm of 1998 disrupted power across Ottawa.  In both cases power was not out across the city.  Depending on the severity of the damage to the grid, buses could be moved between garages for charging or in the case such as the widespread destruction caused by the ice storm, OC Transpo could reduce service as they did in 1998.

Grid Failure

In the summer of 2003 there was a grid failure that impacted much of Ontario and many states on the east coast of the US. This outage lasted a few hours in most places, however in Ontario it took about 5 days for the grid to recover fully.  This type of event is thankfully rare world wide but still a possible issue that OC Transpo would have to deal with.

The battery systems and generators at garages could maintain some service and if sized for a long term outage the generators could keep the system operational.  This solution would be very expensive and likely not justified as the demand for transportation would be much reduced as all workplaces would be closed.

Cooperation with STO in Gatineau

Ottawa does have one interesting option.  Quebec’s grid is not vulnerable to the grid issues that were seen in 2003 and Gatineau was not affected by the outage.  Similarly, power issues in Quebec are very unlikely to cascade into Ontario.  STO, the Transit Authority for Gatineau and OC Transpo could have a reciprocal agreement to charge buses in each others garages in the case of a power failure.  This could allow both systems to have cost effective backup plans in the case of a major failure.

 

 

Fighting Climate Change

The City is busy building the LRT, what’s the rush for e-buses?

Carbon dioxide and money share a common characteristic  – once they are gone, you can’t get them back.  Delaying e-buses will put CO2 into the atmosphere that will not be removed for centuries.

If we delay electric buses for 6 years an additional 750,000 tonnes of CO2 will be emitted and and about $300M of operational savings will be sacrificed.   The money will be lost and the CO2 will be in the atmosphere and there is nothing that could be done to recover either.

Ottawa will continue to suffer the air pollution from the diesel buses with the health impacts that brings to the most vulnerable in our community.

How does the climate impact of buses compare to cars?

An OC Transpo diesel bus drives about 63,000 km per year, a typical car does about 20,000.  Taking into account the fuel usage of the OC Transpo fleet, the annual emissions from a bus are about 30 times a car’s emissions.  This difference is so large that the 400,000 e-buses in China are having a noticeable impact on oil use.  Bloomberg has an interesting article on this impact.

 

How do e-buses fight climate change?

OC Transpo’s bus fleet emitted about 125,000 tonnes of CO2 in 2016. By switching to e-buses, 95% of this can be eliminated.  The remaining 5% is due to the natural gas generators in Ontario’s hydro grid.

If the City of Ottawa is to reduce it’s corporate emissions in line with Canada’s commitment to the Paris Climate Change Conference, OC Transpo’s emissions have to be addressed.

How do e-buses reduce pollution?

In addition to reducing greenhouse gases that cause global warming by 95%, Ottawa’s e-buses will eliminate about 92 tonnes of NOx pollution that is the cause of respiratory stress for people living in Ottawa.  Particulate pollution from exhaust is also eliminated.  Buses create particulate pollution from the wear on brakes, this is also reduced by about 75% as much of the braking is done by regeneration where the motor recovers energy and  uses it to charge the battery.

e-Buses are quiet, reducing noise pollution along their routes.

Does producing an electric bus emit more GHG than producing a diesel bus?

Yes, but the lifetime emissions are much lower than diesel buses.  Although GHG emissions for buses are difficult to measure and compare we can look at cars to compare EVs and fossil fueled vehicles.

Current estimates say that producing an EV emits about 50% – 100% more GHG than a fossil car due to the battery.  This impact is quickly off-set by reduced GHG emissions in use.  e-Buses are expected to run for 1,000,000 km over their lifetime, off-setting about 1850 tonnes of Co2 emissions.

There is nothing intrinsic about the emissions of battery production.  Lead by companies like Tesla and Volkswagen, efforts are underway to decarbonize the battery supply chain so that emissions are reduced or eliminated at each step.  You can read about Volkswagen’s efforts here.

When the time comes to buy electric buses, one of the factors that should be rated equally with cost and capabilities is the carbon footprint of bus production.

Aren’t there a lot of components used in manufacturing e-buses that are bad for the environment?

The manufacturing process for the bus body is the same whether it is an e-bus or a diesel bus. The environmental impact differences are in the “fuel” source.

Modern EV batteries are very similar to batteries found in cell phones and other household devices.  The most common chemistry, Lithium Ion, includes common elements such as lithium, nickel and cobalt.  Cobalt has a poor reputation as a lot of supply comes from conflict zones and is not mined responsibly.   Steps are being made to reduce the amount of cobalt in lithium batteries and some buses use lithium-Fe which has no cobalt. Tesla and Panasonic are  close to eliminating cobalt from their batteries. Canada is rich in all the metals required for battery production, including cobalt.

Unlike lead acid or alkaline batteries, Lithium batteries are non-toxic and can be disposed in a land-fill.  Battery recycling is a developing industry and it is now possible to recycle Li ion batteries economically.

Will Ottawa’s e-buses run on coal fired electricity?

No, Ontario’s last coal generation plant closed down in 2014.  The current carbon dioxide intensity of Ontario’s electricity is 40g/kWh.  Coal plants are in the region of 700g/kWh.

Ontario’s grid is relatively clean, you can look at today’s numbers here.

An electric bus is far more efficient than a diesel bus and even in places like Alberta that have a lot of coal generation diesel is still more polluting than electricity.

The new Light Rail Train is electric, isn’t that enough?

The LRT  is a necessary first step, and a great example of smart growth, but more is needed if we are to meet our Paris commitments

LRT Line 1 will initially reduce the emissions from the buses by about 18% as the fleet is reduced

But the success of the O-Train will increase the need for feeder buses at the rail-ends, to bring passengers to and from the train quickly and efficiently, to “feed the monster”. Examples of this have been seen in other growing cities. In Calgary, their C train expansion plans include a doubling of their bus fleet to feed it.

 

Fighting Air Pollution

Do e-Buses improve air quality?

Yes.  In 2016, OC Transpo buses exhausts emitted about:

  • 93,000 kg of NOx,
  • 1,000 kg of PM2.5
  • 11,000 kg of PM10

NOx causes smog and causes. health problems including premature death.

PM2.5 and PM10 are particulate matter pollution mainly consisting on black carbon.  PM2.5 is a leading cause of health problems in cities.

e-Buses will eliminate all of the exhaust pollution.  Buses also emit PM10 from brake wear.  e-Buses use regenerative braking and rely far less on mechanical braking, reducing pollution.

The CBC recently aired a documentary on air pollution – Something in the Air

What impact does air pollution from diesel vehicles have on the young?

What impact does air pollution from diesel vehicles have on adults?

 

Improving Transit

How do e-buses improve transit?

  • More of the fleet is on the road, as less time is spent maintaining the buses – maintenance costs are approximately 70% lower
  • More transit with the same operating budget – e-Buses are cheaper to operate and have lower total cost of ownership over the lifetime of the bus.
  • e-Buses are nicer to ride – better customer experience
  • e-Buses are quieter and cleaner – better for neighbourhoods.

How reliable are e-buses?

E-Buses are more reliable, mainly due to the fact that electric motors are much simpler than diesel engines. They have about one-tenth the number of moving parts in their drive-train, so less parts to break down. There are no turbo’s, radiators, exhaust systems…you don’t have to fix something you don’t have! And as with most EVs, brakes last 2 to 4 times longer, as most of the braking is done with regeneration by the motor ad battery.

Because they are more reliable, they will spend more time on the road, less time in the shop for repairs . Fleet availability is improved when you can rely on approximately 90% of the buses to be on the road on any given day (vs 80% today).

Both internal combustion engines and electric motors have been around for a hundred or more years, they are not new technology. What’s new is our ability now to take the power source with us (see Batteries and Charging). This technology has about a ten year track record in the e-bus market and performs well under all conditions.

 

 

 

 

How do e-buses compare to diesel buses in winter conditions?

Electric buses have better hill climbing capabilities than diesel buses. What’s more they can recover some of the energy used to climb a hill on the way back down. For example, Park City UT has 6 Proterra e-buses serving ski hills in the area.  Here is a Proterra bus in Park City.

This short clip also demonstrates their effectiveness in winter. The 60ft articulated e-Buses have motors on 2 axles which will mean an end to pushing the bus on snowy days, a far too common site in Ottawa!

Diesel engines do not like the cold, they are hard to start and OC Transpo sometimes has to idle many buses overnight to make sure they will start in the morning.  In an e-bus there is no engine oil to get cold or fuel to freeze and no engine to start, they just go.

Range can be reduced by the cold but that is mainly due to heating the cabin.  e-Buses can be fitted with diesel heaters if the battery capacity is needed for range.

What is the ride like, are they more comfortable than our current buses?

Yes, much quieter and cleaner. Tests on electric buses done by Altoona show a 5-10dB improvement for the interior and exterior noise levels. Newer designs are claiming as much as a 15dB improvement. Here is an example of the interior noise vs a diesel bus.

e-Buses are much quieter and this has benefits for the community and the riders.  Here is an example of exterior noise vs a diesel bus, and here is an electric bus acceleration test.

What happens if the e-bus runs out of power?

Much the same thing that happens when a diesel bus runs out of fuel, the bus stops. However, the likelihood of this happening is negligible, since the buses will generally be charged overnight, which only takes between 4 and 5 hours. And since more than half of the fleet is idle between the morning and afternoon rush hours, if a bus is in need of a re-charge, it could do so then.

Will OC Transpo have to redesign their routes?

No, current e-buses are available with range that meets the daily needs of the OC Transpo network once the Confederation Line is running.  Today, the average bus does about 275 km per work day and there are lots of options for e-buses with ranges from 400-600 km..  The longer routes that would be challenging for e-buses are replaced by the train.  The bus system will focus on shorter routes run at lower speeds that can be easily met by e-buses.

On-street charging is not required as the long range buses can be charged at the garage overnight or between shifts.

e-Buses open options for routes. As noise and pollution are no longer an issue, running more buses into neighbourhoods has much less impact on residents, giving planners more options for better service.

Saving Money

How much money can the City save by going electric?

e-Buses are MUCH cheaper to operate – meaning more transit with the same operating budget

If we could instantly replace the whole fleet with e-buses, we would save $50 million per year: $30 million on fuel and another $20 million on maintenance & depreciation

That works out to roughly $50,000 per bus,  per year in operating cost savings 

Hydro Ottawa revenues will also  increase, as the “fuel” money stays in the province

Capital Investment is required for charging systems, electrical upgrades, new garages to house the fleet etc., but  all of this can be recovered over time in operating cost savings.

See The Numbers Page for more detail on how we came up with these numbers.

How much do e-buses cost?

To buy an e-bus today you can expect to pay around $1,000,000, as compared to $750,000 or so for a diesel bus, or about 30-40% more, but over the life of the bus, e-buses are about 25% cheaper due to the reduced operating costs.

Today, the total cost of ownership of electric buses is lower that diesel, hybrid and compressed natural gas powered buses.

By 2030, Bloomberg is expecting e-buses to reach price parity with diesel buses as battery costs fall. If e-bus adoption accelerates, price parity could happen by the mid 2020s.

Are e-buses more expensive than diesel buses?

Currently e-buses cost more to buy than diesel buses but over the life of the bus they are about 25% cheaper (Total Cost of Ownership, TCO). Here is an example of how that works.

On TCO basis, there are savings of $50,000 per bus per year to be had on operating costs (dep’n, fuel and maintenance). That’s a 5 year payback on the initial $250K higher price. The remaining ten years of the bus’ life, result in $500K savings. And the savings go up once e-Buses cost the same to buy as diesel buses.

At some point between 2025 and 2030, e-buses will cost less than diesel buses to buy, ensuring that e-buses will be lower cost from day one.

 

How do the long-term maintenance costs of electric buses compare to diesels?

Proterra claims 70% reduction in maintenance costs and this seems reasonable. There is a lot of engine and transmission work in a diesel bus that makes up a lot of the scheduled maintenance. You can’t maintain something that does not exist! As with most EVs, brakes last 2-4 times longer as most of the braking is done with regeneration by the motor and battery. Over the long term, batteries may need to be replaced as their capacity declines. This is similar to engines and transmissions that are often replaced in diesel buses. Diesel buses often require rebuilds to extend their operational life that may amount to 50% or more of the replacement cost of the bus.

Isn’t electricity expensive?

When compared to diesel and gasoline, electricity is much cheaper.

The diesel fuel to run a bus for 1 km is about 62 cents, assuming diesel is 90 cents per litre.

The electricity to run a bus for 1 km is about 15 cents, assuming electricity is about 10 cents per kWh.

Will e-buses drive up the cost of electricity for everyone?

No! In fact e-buses can lower the price of electricity for everyone.  Electric vehicles are normally charged at night when there is a surplus of generation capacity. The revenue paid is new revenue for the electricity system and this can lower the costs for all users.  Forbes has a good article on this here.

 

If you have a question not covered above, please ask it here and we will add it to the FAQ:

Enter your question here


This short video from Transport Evolved is a good introduction to e-buses and why this campaign is so important.

254
English
French English