A meeting on the electrification of public transport took place recently in the borough of Saint-Laurent. The meeting was organized by Saint-Laurent Borough Mayor Alan De Sousa and Snowdon City Councillor Marvin Rotrand to explore options to facilitate clean and affordable electric buses in Montreal in the foreseeable future. Despite poor weather conditions, Saint-Laurent Borough Hall was packed with some of Canada’s foremost experts as well as community stakeholders. The meeting took place in French although many of those in attendance came from outside Quebec. However, Mayor De Sousa encouraged participants to ask questions in English during a Q & A session after the presentation.
The STM is still in the pilot project stage of electrification and plans to go fully electric beginning only in 2025. Rotrand and others would like to see a faster rollout of electrification. He says purchases have been costly with the replacement of the actual diesel and diesel hybrid buses going slowly. The STM announced it will pick up the pace for electrifying its surface transit system by going ahead with the purchase of electric buses in a variety of types and using different technologies. However, the transit agency cautioned that the future of electric buses cannot be limited to a single technology that meets all needs.
Some have criticized the STM’s acquisition strategies noting problems with hybrid buses. Earlier De Sousa flagged the question of hybrid technology when Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante went forward with a campaign pledge to buy 300 new hybrid buses. At the time, he said it wasn’t certain that this was the best technology, and acquiring hybrid buses would slow down the shift to electric buses. However, the STM says hybrid buses remain a necessary step toward the full electrification of the bus fleet and is the best choice for the moment.
Part of the problem in getting a relatively new system of electric buses up and running is the lack of a universal charging standard. “Each manufacturer uses its own proprietary system that is non-compatible with its competitors for the recharge of the electric buses it produces,” Rotrand says. This means less flexibility for transit operators in terms of fleet management if a bus depot uses only a particular manufacturer’s charging infrastructure. Someone else’s buses can’t be warehoused and maintained in that garage.
The challenges of implementing and maintaining a fully electric fleet are not only technological but also legislative. Quebec is committed to going green and using clean non-polluting energy. The STM has been mandated by the Quebec government to only buy buses with what are called clean engines, which means hybrid or electric. It will take political will though to implement the changeover to full electrification. “We note that the European Union is moving rapidly toward legislation that would oblige this common standard (for electric buses),” Rotrand says. “We think Canada should follow the same path.”