Better Batteries for Hybrid Buses

The TTC’s supplementary agenda for this week includes a report on the settlement of negotiations with Daimler for the problems with the hybrid bus fleet.  Parts of this report are confidential, but the main items of interest for system users are in the public report.

  • The existing fleet of hybrid buses will be converted from lead acid to Lithium-Ion batteries.  This is expected to greatly improve reliability and to reduce fuel consumption by about five percent due to the much lower weight (4,100 vs 1,000 pounds) of the batteries.  (The TTC quotes the weight in pounds.)
  • The 2009 bus order for 130 hybrids will remain in place.
  • The optional 2010 bus order for 120 diesels will proceed.  It should be noted that supplementary Federal funding for “green” bus technology is not guaranteed into 2010.
  • Due to the larger than expected number of vehicles required both for construction projects (e.g. St. Clair) and to compensate for poor hybrid reliability, 52 “retirement-eligible” GM buses will undergo a life extension.  This is expected to add 2 to 3 years to their life.  Buses now out of service will be the first to go through this rebuild so that the active fleet is not further depleted.  This project will cost $3.5-million or about $65K per bus. 

From a budgetary point of view, the total spending remains below the original Capital Budget mainly due to the savings on diesel versus hybrids on the 2010 bus order.

11 thoughts on “Better Batteries for Hybrid Buses

  1. Today, for the first time in months, I saw a few of the older (not next generation models) hybrid busses out on the road, I guess they where finally fixed up in time for the service increases.

    Hopefully the upcoming Lithium-Ion batteries will solve the issues with hybrids,


  2. Mark maybe you weren’t in the right place at the right time. I’ve been seeing them every single day for the past 2 years on the 36/60.


  3. I find it amusing that the old GMs are by far much more reliable than any of the newer buses on the road, so much so that they’re being rebuilt yet again. If I’m not mistaken, they’re approaching 30 years now and although they may not offer a very smooth or quiet ride, they sure are durable. I’m glad that we’ll be seeing them on our roads for a few more years yet.


  4. Mark, Justin.

    With the opening of the new bus garage in Mount Dennis, there has been many bus movements, that will result in people seeing buses in new areas, and on routes they may have never been on before. Malvern (northern scarborough) and Wilson (mid north york) garages now have older-generation hybrid buses, whereas they did not used to.

    On to the settlement, Steve, can you clear up something. “The optional 2010 bus order for 120 diesels will proceed” Does this mean we will be getting Orion diesel buses?

    Steve: Yes. The money saved here will, among other things, pay for rebuilding those GMs.

    Lastly, on the GM rebuild I can only say hurrah! Those buses may be old but they can do the job and do it well. If only they’d add lifts to them they could keep them running for even longer.


  5. Thanks for looking up the information about the bus rebuilds. I actually thought it was going to be 50 1991 Orion V’s that were getting rebuit but GM’s work just as fine.


  6. Too bad solar panels couldn’t supply a supplemental power to all the surface vehicles. Seeing as the vehicles are sometimes parked out in the sunlight in the middle of day. There is technology to paint it on or have flexible panels, but the cost is still too high.

    Steve: But the amount of energy generated is nowhere near enough to run a bus.


  7. Steve, I find it fascinating hearing all these things about the problems with Daimler buses and their power sources(battery). I find it amazing because that system had the perfect environmental bus in the trolley coaches that use to be on our streets. I see that they are still in use in Vancouver, Edmonton, Dayton, San Francisco, Philadelphia just to name a few cities in North America.

    Shortsightedness and political influence (as to how governments make major subsidys available when transit systems purchase from local contractors … see Scarboro RT, UTDC and the provincial Liberals).

    Steve: Actually, it was the Tories who were in power for both the misguided schemes for the technology that evolved into the SRT, and all parties had a hand, one way or another, on propping up Ontario Bus Industries.

    In looking up information on this, I was surprised to find out that yes, the trolley buses are more expensive than a regular diesel bus. However, I was very surprised to find that life expectancy of these buses is approximately double that of a regular bus!!! Steve, is this true?

    Steve: It depends. The electrical components last longer, but with so much solid state equipment these days, by the time the bus is worn out, the technology has changed vastly. Definitely you do not have to replace the “engine” during a TB’s lifespan.

    If so, instead of sticking with these Daimler lemons (Orions?), why not think of bringing back the infrastructure to many of the central routes (Bay again, Wellesley, Parliament, Dupont, Ossington, Sherbourne, Rogers Road, Junction, Symington,etc.) and some of the eastern city routes (Cosburn, Mortimer, Main, Coxwell, and Broadview just to mention a few).

    Steve: Until we see how the Daimlers perform with the new batteries, it’s early to call them “lemons”, although I think it’s fair to say that the technology has been oversold.

    A new network really should not be based on the old one, but on the operating characteristics of the lines. Frequent service. Lots of hills. Ability to integrate the electrical supply system with the eventual Transit City network.

    I know it is [a] pie in the sky thought but those vehicles were efficient and extremely quiet. Go look at the bus that Lyon, France has set up, I think from Citadalis — nice looking vehicle and it is considered a different service from the regular buses. I also remember going out to Vancouver just over 25 years ago and taking one of the old Canadian Coach trolley buses across the Granville Street bridge. I was amazed at just how fast these vehicles could go when they were let loose!! I know that I am not talking about LRT technology, but as I have noticed with my own occupation, sometimes the wisest person is the one to admit error and goes back to the old tried and true ways because sometimes they do work better! (ah yes, the better way?)

    Steve: What bothers me today is that there is a fascination with the idea that somehow we will have an all electric bus without the wires. Somehow, we are going to have vast strides in battery technology both in lifespan and in the ability to supply high current for quick starts. This isn’t in the cards, but it does not stop people who would rather tinker with (and promote) alternate technologies rather than just getting on with building a new trolleybus network.

    Fifteen years from now, we are told, an electric bus will be reality. I just don’t believe it because the gap between today’s battery technology and what is needed is immense, and some of the performance characteristics defy physics.


  8. Steve, I’ve heard exactly the same thing after making the case for a potential network of trolley buses to tie into the plans for more electric rail transit (heavy and light rail) across Toronto from a senior person. There is at times a fascination with alternative and flashy technologies that don’t necessarly work. I read a local newspaper columnist bemoan the fact that our streecars run (and will run) on overhead wires, since there’s a city in France that has a fancy new wireless electric tram. As ICTS on the SRT showed us, and hybrid buses reinforced, don’t buy the newest fancy thing on the market. Better to wait and see and let someone else deal with the headaches. (The technology has proven more effective in Vancouver, Asia and at airports)

    If you want gadgetbahn, there’s a PRT line only 6 hours by car from here in Morgantown, West Virginia (take QEW to the Peace Bridge I-190, I-90 to I-79, you can’t miss it). It’s the only one in the world, with good reason.

    You are also correct that a new trolley bus network should not necessarily replicate the old. Trolley buses on Dupont since the cutbacks is probably absurd. Lansdowne is now a relatively quiet community-focused route, not the industrial feeder it once was. Only Ossington, or possibly Weston makes sense of the former routes, and would connect some existing and planned electric transit routes together. Dufferin should be a no-brainer. Bathurst is also a very worthy choice, as is Jane if LRT is a non-starter there. Keele could work as well. They can all run out of Mt. Dennis and/or Wilson divisions.


  9. I don’t think Bathurst will make a good candidate for trolley service because the service is very prone to short turns with St. Clair, Lawrence, Sheppard, Finch, Drewry being particularly popular. The buses also frequently overtake one another especially on the portion of the route north of Lawrence.

    With trolley buses they would be forced to travel in packs unless you create some sort of double overhead. Given that the service on Dufferin is very frequent, buses leap frog there as well. I think downtown routes such as 65, 75, 82, 94 as well as most routes that start from subway stations on Bloor East with the exception of 24 and 25 would make good candidates for trolley service.

    Steve: Vancouver has used passing sidings at busy stops for decades, and of course modern buses can run off overhead for diversions and emergency short turns. Any regularly used short-turns should have their own overhead so that buses remain on full power when using them.

    I am not sure about 65 Parliament, 75 Sherbourne or 82 Rosedale. None of these has frequent service, and the 82 is an especially twisty route which would be expensive to equip with overhead wires. 94 Wellesley was a candidate when system expansion was studied, briefly, near the end of the TB system’s life.

    The network of routes in East York is compact, but many of these routes have infrequent service. All of the routes running north out of Pape Station will be affected/replaced by the Don Mills LRT one way or another (regardless of which station it actually goes to) because existing 25 Don Mills, 100 Flemingdon Park, 81 Thorncliffe Park would not have to come all the way down to Danforth any more.


  10. What ever happened to those stretched buses the TTC used to use. I know in Mississauga they still use them. why not in Toronto, why did they get rid of them.

    Steve: The ones we had didn’t work very well. TTC is considering buying artics in future bus orders.


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