Société de transport de Laval purchases its first all-electric buses

Transit agency will be buying only electric beginning in 2025

Despite the reputation battery-electric motor vehicles have acquired for reduced efficiency in cold weather, elected officials gave assurances last week that such problems have been largely overcome and Quebec’s gruelling winters won’t impact the performance of the Société de Transport de Laval’s growing fleet of electric buses.

Over the coming weeks, the STL expects to deploy the first of 10 new 100 per cent electric buses. They are part of a new generation of electric vehicle technology that optimizes battery performance, while allowing the buses to roll 250 kilometres under normal conditions before recharging becomes necessary.

The future of transit

The 10 buses, built by New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg MB, were acquired as part of a group purchase – the largest ever in Quebec, according to the STL – through the Association du transport urbain du Québec (ATUQ) in conjunction with the Société de transport de Montréal (STM).

Like many other public transit agencies, the STL believes that electric vehicles are the future of transportation. As such, the company is investing in electric technologies and stands committed to only purchasing electric buses beginning in 2025.

In 2019, the STL began testing Quebec’s first slow-charge electric bus, which has a 250 km range, taking one step further toward the goal of electrifying the entire fleet.

Transmissionless power

The New Flyer 40-foot Xcelsior electric buses are powered by direct-drive (no transmission), seat 32 passengers and are equipped with Thermo King rear-mounted air-conditioning units. Four years from now, the STL plans to open a new garage built especially for its fleet of all-electric buses.

According to the STL, the benefits of electrification include: lower energy costs per kilometre, with an estimated reduction of 40 to 50 per cent; lower maintenance costs, with a reduction of 15 to 20 per cent, because the vehicles have no engine, transmission or exhaust; reduced GHG emissions, with a reduction of 70 to 80 tonnes per bus per year; and improved passenger experience thanks to the quiet electric motor.

Step in the right direction

“Laval is the first city in Quebec to actually have this type of electric bus,” Sainte-Rose MNA Christopher Skeete said in an interview with the Laval News during a launch event at the STL’s Cartier intermodal public transit terminal last Friday. “This is a really big deal and good news. I think we’re taking a step in the right direction of electrifying all our transports eventually.”

He noted that the efficiency of electric buses has been growing exponentially over the past decade. “The evolution of technology is such that in 2012 buses like this took seven hours to charge for 100 kilometres of autonomy,” he said. “Now, 13 short years later, we’re at 250 kilometres of autonomy with a three-hour charge. So, the technology is moving really fast.”

Winter heating issue

According to Laval city councillor for Saint-François Éric Morasse, who is the STL’s president, the heating of battery-electric buses during the winter does indeed use up a larger amount of battery energy. But he noted that the new buses come equipped with auxiliary heating systems that will kick in when the temperature drops below minus -5º Celsius.

The new buses are being paid for largely with the assistance of the federal and provincial governments. Ottawa is providing more than $6 million and Quebec is providing nearly $5 million. The STL expects to have replaced all its buses with a 100 per cent electric fleet by 2035.

Makes sense to electrify

“The STL is always very innovative in everything it undertakes, and this marks another first for them,” noted city councillor for Auteuil Jocelyne Frédéric-Gauthier.

“Transportation is very important to the federal government and there are multiple reasons why it makes sense to electrify it, including the environment,” said Alfred-Pellan MP Angelo Iacono.

‘The electric bus allows us to save money, whether in fuel or maintenance costs,’ says Laval’s deputy mayor Stéphane Boyer

“I think this is the future,” added Vimy MP Annie Koutrakis. “Everybody’s concerned about the environment. So, what a great example Laval is setting for other cities in Quebec to follow their example.”

The STL believes repair costs will be significantly lower because electric bus engines aren’t as complex as traditional gas-fuelled motors and require far less maintenance.

Reduced GHG emissions

“In addition to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in Laval, the electric bus allows us to save money, whether in fuel or maintenance costs, and to improve customer experience on board,” said Stéphane Boyer, the City of Laval’s deputy mayor and executive-committee vice-president.

According to an online encyclopaedia, at least 37 major cities in the U.S. have begun regularly using electric buses (both battery electric and trolley buses).

In Canada, the adoption of electric buses appears to be concentrated in Quebec, Ontario and British Columbia. Globally, the Russian city of Moscow currently leads on the European continent with at least 500 electric buses in its public transportation fleet as of October 2020.

(This should not be surprising, since Russia, as a former communist society, always placed greater emphasis in its priorities on public transit rather than on private transportation.)