TTC eBus Update April 14, 2021

This article is an update to TTC Plans Massive eBus Order to include information from the TTC Board meeting of April 14, 2021. The staff presentation video is available on YouTube.

The TTC has tested eBuses from BYD, Proterra and New Flyer in a “head-to-head” comparison over the past year (times vary due to delivery delays). There was a sense when this trial began that it would reveal whether certain products were inherently better than others, and possibly winnow the field of potential bidders.

They plan to award a contract for 300 hybrid buses in 3Q2021, and a contract for eBuses in either 4Q2021 or 1Q2022.

In his presentation, Bem Case, Head of Vehicle Programs, made considerable effort to note that the trial was not intended as a selection process, but rather to inform vehicle specifications and contract provisions for a future purchase. Case claimed that BYD and Proterra would be “upping their game” for the large eBus RFP, and their bids should address many issues from the trial. The expected cost for an eBus is around $1 million, about $200k less than the average cost for the trial fleet.

The three trial vendors are not the only ones in the running. Nova Bus, was not part of the trial, but Case advise that they plan to be compliant with the requirements when a Request For Proposals (RFP) goes out.

There are two unnamed manufacturers, one in Canada, one in the US, described as “upstarts” who are trying to get into the market.

Reading between the lines, one can sense that lobbyists have been busy to ensure that no vendor has an inside track. With a 300-bus order on the line, there is a lot of money at stake.

The challenge for the TTC will be to frame a tender whose language actually protects the system up front from bad products rather than simply counting on provisions such as liquidated damages (penalties for non-performance). Issues with the first generation of hybrid buses and the Bombardier streetcars order are fresh in everyone’s mind.

An important clarification emerged regarding the “Negotiated RFP” process. It is not the TTC’s intent to select one vendor in advance and negotiate a contract, but rather to invite bids and then negotiate with vendors to fine tune requirements and issue a revised RFP if necessary. The intent is to avoid writing a spec that disqualifies most or all vendors and forces the entire process to start again from scratch.

Case emphasized that the eBus industry is maturing quickly especially with respect to spare parts availability and post-sales support. Both of these are essential to keeping the fleet on the road, and for ensuring that warranties are honoured promptly. The head-to-head comparison will continue through 2021, and this will provide additional experience to inform both the specifications and evaluations. The TTC expects that availability and reliability issues to date with the trial fleets will be resolved, and they expect strong competition between would-be vendors.

During the trial, many of the problems with vehicles did not lie with the propulsion systems, but with other factors such as vehicle quality, doors and heating. This implies that the ability to actually build a reliable bus is at least as important as packaging the electric technology, and bidders with a track record as bus builders should have an advantage.

A question arose about why management needs to have negotiation authority now when the trial period is still underway. Staff claim that this is needed to begin the process so that eBus deliveries can begin in 2023 rather than pushing the hybrid-to-eBus transition out to 2024. This puts the TTC Board in the difficult position of handing authority for a major procurement to management with little oversight of the decision, but that appears to be how the Board prefers to operate.

Commissioner Ron Lalonde asked whether a larger bus fleet would be needed to compensate for charging time. Case replied that at current battery capacity and usage, so-called “long range” buses can operate for only about 15 hours. This covers only about 40 per cent of TTC service as it is now scheduled. (Many diesel and hybrid buses enter service for the AM peak and stay out until well into the evening.) Various options are available to address this:

  • Reschedule routes so that vehicles return to the garage before they run out of charge. With a 15 hour limit, this constrains vehicles to operate from the AM peak until the early evening, or from the PM peak through late evening.
  • Hydrogen fuel cell buses were mentioned by Case as a longer-range option, although they bring their own challenges.
  • On route charging was also mentioned, but with no details such as a distinction between charging stations such as those used in other eBus systems, or in-motion charging using trolleybus overhead.

Case advised that in the short term, eBuses would be used on routes where their range was not an issue, and that options to expand charging options could be left to the future.

Lalonde asked that management provide an ongoing comparison of the economics of eBuses with comparison to hybrids so that the Board can follow the evolution of the technology.

Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong took the, for him, unusual step of promoting himself as an advocate for green technology. He noted that according to a Columbia University Study (done for New York’s MTA), although the capital costs of eBuses are higher than for other technologies, this is offset by lower operating costs and the green benefits are, essentially, a free benefit of converting. (The situation is a bit more complicated than this because the analysis also includes health care savings that do not accrue to the transit budget.) He did not mention that capital purchases are much more heavily subsidized than operating costs, and this has a beneficial effect on the TTC’s bottom line and City subsidy requirements.

There was only limited discussion of the proposed arrangement with Ontario Power Generation and Toronto Hydro for the supply and operation of the electrical distribution and charging systems. Responding to a question about various configurations of lease and purchase of system components, Bem Case noted that it is to the TTC’s advantage to buy buses and to specify an industry standard charging system because this avoids being locked into a single vehicle that is part of a vendor/lessor’s offering. This keeps electricity supply separate from vehicle selection.

An important factor in the timing of the planned order is the availability of federal subsidy. It is ironic that the feds will be pushing the transit market to buy eBuses as part of their “green” strategy, when a predecessor government (Paul Martin was PM at the time) forced the purchase of early generation hybrid buses that were quite troublesome.

An annoying part of the discussion was the TTC’s penchant for being the best and biggest and first in whatever they might do. Many other cities are testing eBuses. Toronto is not the only one with a cold climate (Edmonton and Winnipeg, for example, are much worse). Despite repeated statements that this order would give Toronto the largest fleet of electric buses in North America, the existence of three large trolleybus systems (Vancouver, Seattle and San Francisco) was not acknowledged.

TTC management would do well in future reports to include more comparative data and experience from other cities. This should not be difficult considering that they chair a regular online meeting of 26 properties who are testing and operating these vehicles.

The staff recommendations were amended by a motion from Commissioner Bradford asking management to include in their next Green Bus report a fleet plan showing the TTC’s existing fleet, potential eBus allocations and possible deployments to routes.

The presentation included a chart showing the planned rollout/conversion of garages to electric operation. This shows that the intent is a gradual buildup of eBus operations across all garages rather than full conversion of a few sites early in the program. This plan distributes whatever problems might arise with eBuses across the system, but more importantly it defers the need for large scale hydro infrastucture until 2024 and beyond.

This chart was included in the online presentation and is clipped from the video, but it is not included in the online presentation deck.

9 thoughts on “TTC eBus Update April 14, 2021

  1. Steve, thanks for doing all you do for transit in Toronto. Your grasp of the issues is unrivalled and your insights keep the players (relatively) honest.

    Steve: Thanks!


  2. **So** annoying.

    What if we just rebranded the technology-that-shall-not-be-named as using “en route cloud charging” (copper wire “in the clouds” above the route) that allows the use of “nano-scale batteries” (big enough to allow, say, 1/2 mile of off-wire operation).

    That they don’t even acknowledge that other cities have perfectly functional “e-bus” systems without the bother of batteries or charging … or that Edmonton, Winnipeg, and Toronto itself once had same … is telling (some within all parties’ concerned lifetimes, even!).

    I get that pols are dumb when it comes to actual technology in *any* field not just transportation, but staff, too? It *has* to be a comparison point when discussing battery buses and yet … nope. Never heard of such a thing.



    Steve: A departed friend of mine referred to TB overhead as “celestial hardware”.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Comparison of e-bus and charging station vs Trolley bus and celestial hardware would be interesting. I have a feeling that no one wants to look as TB is old school and e-bus is bright and shiny. Yet there is something to be said about tried and true…


  4. It is a little weird that the Proterra uses so much more energy in cold weather than the others. It it simply that they’re using electricity for heating while the others use fossil fuels? And why does the BYD vehicle reliability look good while the fleet availability is cratering? Is that a vendor issue with lack of spare parts or something? Or with the chargers? The “satisfactory” corrosion resistance of BYD and Proterra also seem worrisome given Canada’s past problems with cheap rusting buses from other vendors in the past. I guess the BYD charging stuff should be fixed once they switch their buses to using North American chargers. It’s good to know that New Flyer has their act together though. Hopefully, we can get some info from Europe about what the eventual characteristics of the NovaBus electric buses will be like.

    Steve: Yes, the Proterra energy issue seems to be with heating. BYD reliability has a lot to do with spare parts and vendor support. This shows how the so-called comparison has built-in problems if the TTC’s attitude is that these issues don’t count because they will be fixed by the time a contract is awarded. Also, it is unclear which criteria are hard stop issue (such as the safety issue with the BYD anti-corrosion strategy) and which are merely nice-to-haves. I cannot help thinking that there is a lot of pressure not to rule out any vendor at this point.


  5. “Commissioner Ron Lalonde asked whether a larger bus fleet would be needed to compensate for charging time. Case replied that at current battery capacity and usage, so-called ‘long range’ buses can operate for only about 15 hours.”

    The greatest winter range of the buses tested by the TTC was a little over 200 km. Assuming an average speed of 20 km/hr, this is good for about 8 hours. This is in line with the Edmondton trial results as well. The “long range” buses will obviously cost more since the battery is almost twice as big. Or perhaps more than twice as big, since hauling around such a large battery will reduce the range. In any case, no such bus was tested by the TTC.

    Steve: The average speed on many bus routes is well below 20 km/hr. That is why the TTC said that about 40% of their service as currently scheduled would fit within the duty cycle of the buses. They also recognize that a lot of their service needs to be rescheduled or that they will have to top up charges through the day. I agree with your implication that they are taking a rather rosy view of this problem, and that the impetus right now is to get those federal dollars to buy new buses. They can worry about saying “um, er, we still need some hybrids for part of the network” later, or hope that technology improves although there are physical limits including battery size and weight.

    Another problem is that they express range in kilometres when the actual distance will depend on consumption patterns.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I assume the unnamed Canadian upstart is Lion Electric, but I wonder who the unnamed American upstart is. Regardless, we shouldn’t cave to pressure by the Americans to allow them to bid on the contract without building a Canadian factory. After they forced New Flyer to move their electric division to the US to satisfy their Buy America laws, we shouldn’t feel any obligation to accommodate them due to free trade ideals or anything.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. “The average speed on many bus routes is well below 20 km/hr. That is why the TTC said that about 40% of their service as currently scheduled would fit within the duty cycle of the buses.”

    Very true. Particularly in downtown Toronto. I have sat in buses that were crawling so slowly that I could walk faster. There are, of course, things that can be done to eliminate this traffic congestion. Many European cities have supportive infrastructure that allows cycling to be the dominant form of transportation. With a typical cycling speed of 20 km/hr, these people are moving much faster than in Toronto. For example, see this video of Utrecht.

    This is the busiest street in the fastest growing major city in The Netherlands. As you can see, there is no traffic congestion even at the peak of rush hour.

    Even with Toronto’s lousy, crappy awful infrastructure, cycling mode shares are consistently 15-25% across downtown, with some neighbourhoods such as Cabbagetown as high as 34%.

    Proper infrastructure, which is dirt cheap, would transform Toronto’s city centre. But given the way that things are now, I can certainly believe that 40% of the current bus service has average speeds of 10 km/hr, which would result in the bus battery lasting for 15 hours.

    The problem is that the TTC’s goal is to have a 100% electric bus fleet. So what do we do with the other 60% of Toronto’s bus service that does not fit within the duty cycle of the buses? There are two ways of dealing with this problem.

    1. Buy more buses so that some can be charging while others are in service.
    2. Install trolleybus style “on-the-move” charging infrastructure for the core part of the bus network. Battery buses can then run “off the wire” using their batteries for the peripheral parts of their route.

    I am totally technology-agnostic about these two options. Whichever one is cheaper should be used. But there appears to be nobody at the City or TTC who is doing that analysis. And that is a serious problem.

    Steve: Did you miss the part where I said that the TTC is aware of alternatives, and also knows they have some time before they get to that 60% to see where the technology goes?

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Here in Ontario, we have been complaining about loss of manufacturing jobs to China. Out of all of the electric bus manufacturers, BYD is the only one that is manufacturing right here in Ontario. This should be kept in mind. If domestic jobs are not important, then we can order from any number of high quality German electric bus manufacturers such as Eurabus from Berlin, Germany. Yes, BYD is a Chinese company but it is manufacturing right here in Ontario and this is ever more important given that our economy has been decimated by the pandemic.

    Steve: If what they build is crap, it really doesn’t matter where they build it. Also, the last time I looked, Quebec and Manitoba count as “domestic” too. Sorry, but you sound like a BYD apologist who needs a geography lesson. If the government of Canada is going to pay a substantial subsidy for these buses, then it’s not just an Ontario job program we’re talking about.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. Rick Leary and his management team are of the opinion that NFI and BYD should be selected for the electric bus contract. While Nova is formally participating in the process, they are said to have no chance for the electric bus contract but they are in the running for the hybrid bus contract.

    Steve: That does not surprise me at all.

    Liked by 1 person

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