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Transit goes back to the future

First all-electric bus in Manitoba debuts

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The first electric bus made in Manitoba recharges on Taylor Avenue Friday.

WAYNE GLOWACKI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

The first electric bus made in Manitoba recharges on Taylor Avenue Friday. Photo Store

It's a step back into the city's past, but it's also a larger leap forward in mass transportation in Winnipeg.

It's the province's first made-in-Manitoba all-electric transit bus, and more will soon be on the road shuttling passengers.

Four more are to be added in the next few months, making Winnipeg the main testing ground for electric transit buses in North America.

The prototype electric bus, which cost about $1 million to build, runs virtually silently compared to its diesel cousin. It's so quiet you can have a normal conversation with the driver from the back seat.

It's as swift as other transit buses on city streets as long as its battery is fully charged, which takes about 20 minutes. The estimated cost to run it is about $15 worth of electricity for every 100 kilometres, less than one-quarter the fuel cost for a diesel transit bus.

The bright-blue bus debuted Friday as it shuttled politicians and news media from Manitoba Hydro's head office on Portage Avenue to its satellite office at Taylor Avenue and Harrow Street, where a recharging station -- two cantilevered, curved arms touching a roof connection on the bus -- recharged its 150-kilowatt-capacity battery pack in about four minutes.

"One of the first uses of electricity in Manitoba was to power electric streetcars, replacing horse-drawn public transportation," Manitoba Hydro president Scott Thomson said. "So we're coming full circle."

The heavy-duty Xcelsior transit bus is the product of a partnership between the province, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, New Flyer Industries, Manitoba Hydro, Red River College and Winnipeg Transit.

The plan is for electric buses to run high-visibility routes, where they'll get the most attention, then phase them in on more demanding, heavy-traffic routes. The first regular route is tentatively from Richardson International Airport to downtown.

"As the technology proves itself out, we'll certainly be looking at testing it in more and more demanding conditions, and ultimately, we're thinking towards fully operationalizing the technology," said Dave Wardrop, Winnipeg Transit's director.

Paul Soubry, president and chief executive officer of New Flyer Industries, said the electric bus is the future of his company.

"We think by 2020-2025 this is going to be the dominant propulsion that's offered in the buses that we sell all over North America," he said, adding New Flyer is already building two of the buses for a U.S. operator.

He said while the price of an electric bus will be higher than for a diesel bus because of its technology, it has lower operating and maintenance costs. The average cost of a diesel bus is $400,000 to $500,000. The anticipated cost for an electric bus will be $600,000 to $700,000.

The number and location of additional charging stations has to be worked out. That's vital information for Hydro, said Dale Friesen, the utility's manager of industrial and commercial solutions.

Friesen said the rapid-charging system on Taylor Avenue puts a load on Hydro's distribution system equivalent to what a big commercial building such as a large grocery store would draw.

"We have to understand how this is going to impact our grid and how the charging profile and consumption profile of these buses are going to impact how, when and where we deliver energy," he said.

bruce.owen@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2014 B2

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