Updated June 13, 2018: Discussion and motions from the TTC Board Meeting added.
At its meeting on June 12, 2018, the TTC board will consider a staff report which sets out in some detail the first stages of Toronto’s migration from diesel and diesel/hybrid buses to a zero-emission fleet.
The TTC’s abrupt shift from diesel to zero-emission followed a July 2017 motion adopting the TransformTO climate change plan which included a reduction target of 80% by 2050. After continued defense of “clean diesel” technology on the basis of cost and reliability, ongoing problems with Hybrid buses, and a view that new technologies were not yet mature enough for system-wide use, the TTC has reversed course and embraced a move to buying only zero-emission vehicles by the mid-2020s. As older vehicles reach end of life, the diesel and hybrid fleets would gradually disappear.
In September 2017 at an unusual Board meeting a vendor, BYD, was given the opportunity to make an extended product pitch as a “deputation”. This led to a more general interest in zero-emission vehicles from two other vendors (New Flyer and Proterra), as well as natural gas alternatives thanks to lobbying by Enbridge Gas.
In November, the Board approved a 30-bus trial with ten vehicles from each of the three vendors, as well as a less definitive study of the role of gaseous fuels.
A major problem through the entire process is that much of this is new technology, and there are many competing claims for its suitability that are not yet substantiated by real world experience. A recent article in the Los Angeles Times details problems with their battery buses and the gap between promises and actual performance.
Toronto is just beginning to learn the cost of moving to a greener fleet and the escalation not only in vehicle costs but in related infrastructure. $50 million has been allocated for those first 30 buses, and a further $88 million is on the table for another 30 plus associated infrastructure. The report is deliberately vague about specific prices for vehicles because negotiations with vendors are still underway.
Without extra investment by other governments, the technology change simply would not happen. In a November 2017 report, TTC staff noted that battery buses were “significantly less expensive” than other options based on the availability of PTIF funding.
Indeed, the current plan is structured to burn through as much of the Federal government’s Public Transit Infrastructure Fund Phase I money as possible. When PTIF was announced, all projects to be part of the first phase were required to be finished by March 2019. This is partly a political date given the election next year, and partly an accounting requirement so that spending occurs within a few fiscal years (government fiscal years start on April 1). The PTIF deadline was extended from 2019 to 2020 when it became obvious that actually spending the new money would not be possible for many cities.
Toronto found itself without projects either in the City or Transit budgets that could soak up the available money in only a few years, and initially the focus was on a massive replacement of the bus fleet to retire the worst of the older buses and, at the same time, shift from an 18-year to a 12-year replacement cycle.
In this context – a subsidy windfall plus an unusually large, multi-year bus order – the opportunity for a fast change in technology presented itself both to the politicians and to the would-be vendors. Whether this will work out remains to be seen, but the TTC is moving cautiously with a trial program that will determine whether the new technologies are credible replacements for what we have today. Meanwhile, the TTC will shift back to Hybrids from Clean Diesel on the premise that Hybrid technology has improved since the less-than-reliable generation of buses they are about to retire.
The staff report recommends that:
- The quantity of electric buses will be increased from 30 to 60 with all vehicles to be delivered by March 31, 2020, and the TTC will work with Toronto Hydro on the design and installation of charging and energy storage systems; the project cost is increased from $50 to $120 million.
- The TTC will work with Toronto Hydro to modify one bus garage to accommodate up to 300 buses through the supply of a substation and backup generator at an estimated cost of $18 million.
- Staff will provide a project update in first quarter 2019 to the new TTC Board following the Council election in the fall of 2018.
- Staff will conduct a feasibility study of all garages and report in the fourth quarter of 2019 on “preliminary estimates for the total costs, benefits, and potential funding opportunities associated with the green bus plan”.
Separately from these reports, staff will present a plan in July 2018 feeding into the 2019 budget process with updated capital plans and tradeoffs necessary to free up money for the new bus infrastructure.
Updated Fleet Plan
The revised fleet plan is shown in summary in Figure 3 (taken from the report) below, plus three tables showing details of procurements through 2020 for each technology. The plan shows a co-existence of Hybrid and Zero Emission vehicles through to 2024. By that date, the state of bus technology should have settled both to bring costs down and to establish the reliability of competing approaches.
Although the TTC Board hoped to shift much of the current Clean Diesel order to Hybrid, this was not possible for much of the contract already underway for 2018.
There will be no bus purchases in 2020 while the TTC digests the accelerated order under PTIF to replace a good chunk of the current fleet. Orders for 2021 and beyond will clearly depend on the outcome of trials to be conducted in 2019-20.
By the end of summer 2018, designs for all vendors will be approved, and through the fall, the charging infrastructure will be installed at three garages. Vehicles will arrive with the first ten from each vendor coming first, followed by the remaining 10.
- BYD: December 2018
- New Flyer: February 2019
- Proterra: June 2019
- Remaining 30 buses: November 2019
The report lists many aspects of the technologies and requirements, and for convenience I have consolidated these into one set of tables. Note that the values for battery buses assume a 30-vehicle fleet, not 60.
The report also includes a set of Key Performance Indicators that will be used to track each set of new vehicles.
The total life cycle costs shown above deserve comment. The “original baseline” figure of $2.39/km does not include the effect of PTIF which reduced this value to $1.73/km in the November report. It is unclear whether the $2.02/km reflects changes in the estimated cost of vehicles and technology, or if PTIF money is involved.
In any case, just as greenhouse gas effects are calculated including extraction, processing and transmission costs for fuel, the TTC should not artificially reduce cost estimates just because PTIF is available. Those are subsidy dollars that are not spent on other projects where there could also be a benefit that will not be achieved. A dollar is a dollar no matter where it comes from.
I have asked the TTC for clarification of the numbers on this chart and will update the article when they reply.
The timeline for implementation of the 60 eBuses stretches out to the fall of 2019 because it will take until then for the Energy Storage Systems needed to supplement charging capacity to be installed at the garages.
Garages and Power Requirements:
Each of the three vehicles coming to Toronto has its own requirements in terms of maintenance expertise, spare parts and power supply. Moreover, there are constraints on how many buses can be supported by existing infrastructure. The three fleets will be assigned to their own garages:
- Proterra buses at Mount Dennis
- New Flyer buses at Arrow Road
- BYD buses at Eglinton
The evaluation of sites took physical and geographic considerations into account. Birchmount and Queensway garages were ruled out due to ceiling height. Space at Eglinton is constrained, and so the BYD fleet will go there because the AC to DC power conversion is done on the vehicles rather than in the charging stations.
The big challenge is provision of power with which to charge the buses. Charging would take place overnight and would add to the demand on each garage’s power supply. Power is not available at existing garages on the scale required to charge a large fleet, and even for the smaller trial, line power will have to be supplemented by an energy storage system.
Existing garages have a 600V electrical distribution fed from a 1500kVA transformer owned by Toronto Hydro, with the exception of Arrow Road which is fed from a 1000kVA transformer that needs to be upgraded to a 1500kVA unit. Historical billing data from all garages indicates peak demand in the range of 650 to 885kVA occurring overnight and in winter months. With bus charging rates between 80 and 150kW per bus, the energy available for eBus charging is determined by the difference between the existing peak demand and the allowable continuous load. This limitation is driven by the fact that both the facility and charging demands have coincident peaks. To allow for the first 10 eBuses at home garages, an energy management system (software) will be used to curtail charger output in response to plant load and total vehicle demand.
The energy management system alone, however, cannot accommodate a larger number of buses. To allow for more than 10 eBuses at any one garage, an energy storage system (ESS), which is essentially a large battery system, is required to help managing peak loads to within the 1500kVA limitation and to spread the charging window without exceeding the operational/infrastructure limit.
An additional 10 eBuses at each garage would exceed facility peak energy limits. On a daily basis, the number of eBus service kilometers available is a function of the onboard battery capacity and the amount of energy that can be drawn from the grid. By examining hourly power demands at our garages, there is a reserve capacity that is not being used. ESS could be added to the existing electrical system and charged slowly during the day using existing spare capacity. These batteries could then be discharged supplement energy drawn from the grid, charging more buses than would be possible if the system relied on the grid alone and staying within the operational/infrastructure limit.
The load pattern without a storage system are shown in the chart below.
Using a storage system, some of the load is shifted away from the charging period. The idea of shifting some of the power draw by using a storage system gets around the constraint on available power, but at the cost of additional infrastructure and power losses through conversion. The batteries would not necessarily charge with “cheap” overnight power.
Going beyond 20 buses per garage triggers the need for a dedicated power supply:
In order to accommodate more than 20 eBuses at a garage, even with ESS, more power must be drawn from the grid. The minimum rating of such a service would be 2500kVA which exceeds the secondary (e.g. 600V) offerings from Toronto Hydro and so a TTC owned substation is required – similar to what is in place for Streetcar and Subway operations. This option requires the addition of the following equipment:
- New 27.6kV switchgear with new feeder entry from Toronto Hydro
- New TTC-owned transformers to step the voltage down to 600 and 480 V
- New cabling to connect to the existing garage service entrance and to the new eBus charging equipment
Moreover, if there is a power outage, the fleet would be unable to operate without an auxiliary power supply. The TTC proposes that a backup generator would be provided to take over in case of an outage.
Further to Item #2 (above), as we move towards the 2025 target for procurement of only zero emissions buses (i.e. 60 in 2021, 80 in 2022, 100 in 2023, and so on), it would be inefficient to continue modifying existing garages to accommodate only 20 buses each, even though potential sunk cost of the capital investment is low.
To stay ahead of the bus procurements and to ensure efficient use of resources for the preparation of garages, electrical capacity must be added through the installation of substations and resiliency must be added through backup generators.
The benefit of pursuing this additional scope now, besides the potential use of PTIF funding and the fact that our existing garages will have to be modified starting in 2021/2022 regardless, is that the modification is future proof. Whether the future of our fleet is comprised of all-electric, hydrogen fuel cell, CNG buses, plug-in hybrid, or a mix of these technologies, the substation and backup generator is required.
It is unclear why CNG (compressed natural gas) requires a new substation comparable to that needed to power a 300-bus garage. I have asked TTC for clarification of this statement.
The backup generator brings various technology options separate from the bus technology.
There are three internal combustion solutions with various fuels available for backup energy generation. Diesel generators are the most common and can pick up loads within 10 seconds. Bi-Fuel generators that run on 30% diesel and 70% natural gas can also pick up loads quickly but are dependent on the ability to supply the bus garage with natural gas. Lean burning 100% natural gas generators are the cheapest to operate and emit the least amount of GHG emissions but can take between 4 to 10 minutes to start and take load and occupy a larger space footprint in comparison to diesel and bi-fuel options. Lastly, the use of backup generation power can also assist in curtailing global adjustment charges from the local utility company through peak energy shaving. A 5MW backup diesel generator costs approximately $5 million and additional $3 million for every 5MW added thereafter.
As noted previously, both the substation and the backup generator will be required at all existing garages regardless of the future (non-diesel) technology. To keep up with zero emission bus procurements, the first garage must be ready in 2021 and additional garages must be retrofitted at a rate of approximately one every 1.5 to 2 years.
The reference to peak energy shaving refers to the use of a generator to supply power during periods when high demand triggers higher power bills from Hydro. It is ironic that a “zero emission” technology could depend on a fossil fuel for some of its power. Indeed the more general issue of electrical power generation must consider byproducts of that process to keep environmental comparisons on an even basis.
[…] both the substation and the backup generator will be required at all existing garages regardless of the future (non-diesel) technology. To keep up with zero emission bus procurements, the first garage must be ready in 2021 and additional garages must be retrofitted at a rate of approximately one every 1.5 to 2 years.
McNicoll Garage, now under construction, will continue based on its current design as a revision at this point would invite a delay in a project that is already badly overdue for the expansion of Toronto’s bus fleet.
When the eBus proposal was before the TTC, Enbridge was a bit miffed that natural gas options were not on the table as a means of reducing emissions. The TTC’s experience with CNG was less than successful in part because of the then state of the technology and the less than robust equipment with which it was implemented. CNG buses now account for about one fifth of all buses in North America.
At its November 2017 meeting, the TTC Board moved:
That staff report back in one year on the transition from end-of-life diesel buses to CNG to ensure a mix of vehicle fleet energy types into the future.
This is a rather oddly worded resolution because it is far from clear that a “mix” of energy types is how the TTC should go (nobody has suggested that one of our subways run on hot air despite its plentiful supply in these parts, and an all-diesel bus fleet was a common sight in Toronto and elsewhere for decades). The real questions are whether battery buses will actually perform well enough to become the mainstay of the fleet, or if CNG, as opposed to Hybrid diesel-electric, will win out as an alternative to batteries or some other technology like hydrogen fuel cells.
Staff advise that they will report out on CNG later this year, presumably at the inaugural Board meeting in December 2018 after the municipal election.
In Q4 2018, staff will report back with an report that provides recommended course of actions and best practices for the TTC to adopt gaseous fuels to deliver a resilient path from high carbon vehicles to low/zero carbon vehicles.
This statement contains the odd phrase “a resilient path” to CNG. This implies that Toronto actually wants to follow that path rather than merely experimenting with a future decision on which technology(ies) it might choose. CNG has special infrastructure requirements and constraints on where it can be used, and this triggers an “all or nothing” response because even a few buses would require infrastructure changes at garages and central maintenance depôts. Wilson Garage was once fitted for CNG, but would have to be updated to current standards.
Two variants on CNG are RNG (R = “Renewable”, aka Biomass) and Hydrogen Fuel Cells for which natural gas is one potential source of hydrogen (albeit with a high side effect in production of greenhouse gases). These too will be reviewed.
A different version is in the actual motion:
That staff report back in one year on the transition from end-of-life diesel buses to CNG to ensure a mix of vehicle fleet energy types into the future.
This clearly intends to be a way to shift existing diesels onto an alternate energy source, if this is feasible, not necessarily to embrace CNG as a permanent addition. There are two problems with this. First, much of the “end-of-life” fleet is about to be retired as part of the TTC’s move to a shorter planned lifespan, and the newer clean diesel vehicles, some just in delivery, are nowhere near “end-of-life”. Second, a move to CNG requires infrastructure and implies a longer-term commitment to the technology.
CNG requires a charging station, and part of the study will include a review of financing options: would the station be built and owned by the TTC, or provided by Enbridge or a third party on a lease basis.
Enbridge will work with TTC to render a report that provides recommended course of actions and best practices for the TTC to adopt gaseous fuels to deliver a resilient path from high carbon vehicles to low/zero carbon vehicles. Deliverables would include business case which includes life cycle costs, capital costs, Operating and Maintenance costs and any related cost avoidances.
The lobbyists earned their keep with this special pleading for CNG. It is unclear what the makeup of the next TTC board will be and which vendors/technologies will have “friends at court” to ensure their options do not fall off of the table.
Although the report provides some information on the anticipated reduction in diesel fuel costs, it is silent on the cost of the alternatives whether they are electricity or an alternative such as CNG. To the extent that there are any cost estimates, they are buried in rolled-up numbers that give only the capital and operating components of an anticipated cost/km. Those numbers involve assumptions about the number of kilometres of travel over which annualized capital costs could be charged, and any technology that fails to meet performance targets will see a big jump in the capital component of total cost/km.
A list of potential, but yet to be confirmed and evaluated, funding opportunities is as follows:
- Bus manufacturers: All eBus manufacturers offer lease programs. Options include lease of the entire bus or lease of the on-board batteries which can comprise as much as half of the total bus cost;
- Enbridge: The gas utility is offering a turnkey solution for a CNG compressor station(s) that would have them finance, build, and maintain the station;
- Toronto Hydro: the electrical utility is pursuing incentive applications pursuant to federal and provincial smart grid programs; and
- Third-Party Investors: potential investors in technology and capital have approached TTC staff with offers to discuss potential funding opportunities.
The next step is to confirm with interested parties what they are offering (e.g. shared cost-benefit arrangement, cost of capital financing, etc.) and to consider whether there is value in pursuing these opportunities given the comparatively low rates at which the City of Toronto secures its capital. Through discussion with all relevant stakeholders in City Finance, Legal, Procurement, and others, a strategy is to be developed and then presented back to the TTC Board for approval. As per Recommendation No. 4, this report is targeted for Q4 2019.
This shows the desperation the City and TTC are getting to with creative financing of infrastructure, not to mention the degree to which various industries seek to profit by financing rather than selling equipment and systems to the TTC. A related problem here is a question of the allocation of costs to budgets for subsidy purposes.
If these costs are treated as Capital and are fully funded via the usual government channels, then there is no charge against ongoing TTC operations beyond running vehicle and infrastructure maintenance. However, if the TTC enters into a lease arrangement and this is treated as an Operating cost it will fall on a base where 2/3 of the revenue stream is fares. Indeed, new costs of this type could compete with actual service improvements by diverting operating funds to capital projects. (This happened on a one-time basis early in John Tory’s term as Mayor to fund new buses, a little-known piece of financial magic.)
There are many questions to be asked about the viability of new bus technologies both from the technical/operational viewpoint, and about the financial implications of investing in a more expensive bus technology just when the TTC was poised to concentrate on traditional diesel buses, out of favour though they may be, to reduce costs. It is not clear that funding governments, including the City of Toronto, will back up their “green” commitments with new money, especially when the TTC is already considering ways it can shave other parts of its capital program to free up funding for new buses and infrastructure.
We have yet to learn how much “going green” will cost Toronto in other, foregone improvements to the transit system. This is not to say that “green is bad”, but it is not free, especially at the outset, and Toronto must be prepared to pay. Meanwhile, the technology promoters will take advantage of the temporary availability of special subsidies to make their products appear “affordable”, and the lobbyists will dine out on the spoils.
Updated June 13, 2018 at 4:00 pm:
Discussion and motions from the Board meeting.
There was considerable discussion among Board members about this item and about whether there should be a streamlining of the investigation process for new green bus technologies. A major problem here is the enthusiasm of some advocates exceeds the actual capabilities of various technologies for urban transit applications.
This can be seen in a motion proposed by Commissioner Joe Mihevc:
- Recognizing that the bus fleet plan addresses projected ridership to improve service and promote further ridership growth, staff is requested to advance a 9th garage.
- TTC confirm its target for procurement of only zero emission propulsion technology starting in 2025 and define zero emissions propulsion technology as fossil fuel free, and
- In light of new information presented in this report, the TTC Board rescind its direction issued on November 13th, 2017 regarding the requirement for staff to report back on the transition from end-of-life diesel buses to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG).
The first two clauses of this motion passed, but the third did not.
The need for a ninth bus garage beyond McNicoll (which will be the 8th when it opens in 2020) has been acknowledged by staff for some time. Even with the offset of buses being replaced by LRT and subway lines (TYSSE, Crosstown, SSE), ridership growth will drive a need for more buses, and hence more garage space. This is one of many currently unbudgeted capital items.
The reference to “zero emission buses” and the associated third clause were an attempt to stop further work on CNG. Some members of the Board are gung-ho on an all-electric future, but others are concerned that this is not yet a proven course to take. It is not yet clear, for example, that the range for a charge of a battery bus will be sufficient to cover routine operations, or the effect of weather on battery performance. Conversely, there is always the option of charging stations along a route, but this only works if the process is fast. Four hours for a full charge does not fall into this range, and even a “top up” would be a non-trivial delay. There would also be a limit to how many buses could layover (at, for example, a terminal loop) recharging.
It is conceivable that a “mixed mode” operation with CNG buses for the busy long-haul corridors and batteries for the smaller, local, routes would be a workable mix. That said, the idea of electric vehicles which inherently can involve sparks when connecting and disconnecting from charging stations will have difficulty co-existing with CNG where spark suppression is essential.
“Fossil fuel free” could mean two things: one is that only electricity would be eligible (leaving aside how the fuel that produced it in the first place), while the other is that biogas, more recently termed “RNG” (“R” = renewable) is not fossil fuel, and hence would not be precluded.
There is some debate about the relative emissions of RNG vs CNG. RNG advocates claim that because methane from decomposition that would otherwise be lost to the atmosphere is captured and burned, that this makes RNG a zero emission fuel on a net basis. However, the period of natural decomposition is considerably longer than the rate at which biomass would actively be converted, and so the “saving” occurs over an extended period while the actual use is immediate. The actual balance has not been set out to permit a comparison. In any event, the gas that would actually be burned is methane regardless of where it comes from.
If the TTC contracted for a supply of RNG, it would not be that gas, specifically, that would power buses, but rather the TTC would be financing RNG production that became part of the overall feed of gas into the distribution network. There would not be a discrete pipeline from a biomass digester to a refinery to the TTC properties any more than there are dedicated electrical facilities linking renewable sources through the network to consumers of “green” energy.
The third clause has two problems.
First, it assumes that the TTC actually has a bunch of end-of-life diesel buses awaiting CNG conversion. In fact, the older buses are now being replaced either with brand new “clean diesels” or with hybrids. The question would be whether at some point in the mid 2020s any remaining diesels should be converted to CNG. However, the youngest diesel buses in the fleet would, at that point, be more than half way to retirement assuming a 2018 purchase and a planned 12-13 year lifespan. There would not be much “end of life” to capture in the then-surviving diesels and it is hard to understand the value of such work on buses that would have at most six years left before retirement.
Second, the scheme presumes the availability of CNG infrastructure, something that is far from certain unless the TTC planned to actively shift to CNG for new vehicles. This is portrayed as a way to reduce emissions faster, but it is actually a Trojan horse to get CNG into the fuel mix at TTC under the guise of greening the diesel fleet.
Staff will continue to study the issue, but much more clarity is required in the exact purpose and longevity of any shift to CNG at the TTC.
The question of reliability for electric buses came up with specific reference to the Los Angeles Times article detailing problems with their trial fleet of BYD vehicles. Staff reported that the difficulties stemmed from poor quality in the buses which are being manufactured by a US firm in California as part of a local job creation requirement. However, this does not address problems with vehicle performance and the mileage that can be achieved on one charge. That value could also be affected by the colder northern weather, a problem Los Angeles does not face.
The Times also describes the sales practices of BYD:
Thousands of pages of public records and interviews with those dealing directly with the company show BYD to be a skilled political operator. The company’s business model involves hiring lobbyists and grant writers to secure no-bid purchases by public agencies, and it has invited public officials on foreign junkets and employed their close associates. Those officials then repeatedly came to the company’s defense as concerns about the buses heightened.
If the TTC is serious about evaluating electric bus technology, this should be a fair and open comparison between vendors, not a sweetheart deal. Too much is at stake in the future of bus service quality for the TTC to be suckered (or worse) into buying buses that do not deliver on their promises. It is ironic that so much invective is directed at Bombardier for their streetcars, while would-be providers of new buses get a free ride.
No significant move on a new bus order will be undertaken by the current Board or Council, in spite of the best efforts of some Board members to advance the interests of specific bidders.
Further reports will deal with garaging and maintenance issues for fleets of various technologies and for service growth, and no commitment to a specific technology is possible until the electric bus tests have completed in 2020.
TTC Staff Replies to Questions
The original article posed some questions which have now been answered by TTC staff:
1. Why would a CNG-based garage require a substation and backup generator comparable to facilities at an all-electric garage?
Staff have replied that, in fact, this is incorrect and is a case of unclear writing in the report. The context was for a mixed-mode garage that would have both CNG and electric vehicles. Clearly, if only some of the vehicles at a garage are electric, then the electrical facilities would not have to be as large. This brings us to the whole question of whether CNG will be required for routes where performance of battery buses would be unacceptable. Such a position in itself implies that the battery technology has some way to go compared with CNG, but there is a strong political push toward the battery “zero emission” option.
2. Do the costs shown in the Key Performance Indicator chart exclude or include the effect of PTIF funding? Both versions were shown in the November 2017 report.
Staff replied that the updated figures reflect revised estimates for power cost (lower) and capital cost (higher) that on balance produce a lower cost/km than in the November report. However, this assumes that the buses actually achieve the mileage per charge that is claimed.
Staff also agree that PTIF, while it supports the current trial, cannot be counted on for a full-scale fleet purchase starting in 2025, and the cost comparisons should not include this.