Categories: Local News

Electric bus whirrs into town

SWEET RIDE – PWTransit Canada service delivery manager Morgan Smith test-drives an electric bus on loan from Edmonton Wednesday. St. Albert Transit is offering free rides on this bus this month as part of a month-long test of electric vehicle technology.

What sounds like a time machine and gets you around St. Albert for free? The city’s new electric bus, of course.

City residents will get to ride free on St. Albert Transit’s new electric bus starting on Tuesday.

The city has leased the bus for $10,000 from the Edmonton Transit System (ETS) for a one-month trial so that drivers and residents can see what an electric bus is like, said Bob McDonald, director of St. Albert Transit.

ETS is test-driving two such buses, including this one.

“We’re looking for the most cost-effective and efficient power source that we can have on the bus,” McDonald said.

His department’s research suggests that electric buses should produce less pollution and cost less in fuel and maintenance than regular or hybrid buses.

The electric bus will run on various local and commuter routes in St. Albert most days from Aug. 5 to Aug. 29, McDonald said. There’s no fare box on board, so anyone can ride it for free.

McDonald hopes residents will ride the bus and send him comments on it through the St. Albert Transit website.

“We think it’s potentially a great cost savings and a great way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” he said.

Meet the bus

The bus itself is made by BYD Motors Inc. in Lancaster, Calif., said company spokesperson Phillip Woolen, who was on site for a demonstration of the bus Wednesday. This one in particular is a bare-bones test model used for demonstrations.

The bus is powered by lithium iron phosphate battery packs located in the roof, rear, and above the front wheel wells, each supplying about 540 volts of power – enough to drive about 225 kilometres on a single charge, Woolen said.

That’s significantly more than what a St. Albert bus would drive in a typical day, McDonald said.

“These batteries here will run for most if not all of our actual runs, absolutely. We will not be running out of power midway.”

The bus produces zero tailpipe emissions while in operation, McDonald noted. It still produces some greenhouse gas emissions, however, as it gets its electricity from coal.

Gordon Howell, a renewable power expert with the Solar Energy Society of Alberta, estimates that an electric car in Alberta produces about a quarter of the greenhouse gas emissions of a regular gasoline-powered car.

An electric bus is also cheaper to run.

“Typically, it costs 10 to 15 cents per mile (about 16 to 24 cents per kilometre) to run this bus, versus a dollar to $1.10 ($1.61 to $1.77) for a diesel,” Woolen said, speaking in terms of fuel. Maintenance costs are also much lower, as there’s no transmission to fix or oil to change.

The bus costs about $800,000, or about $300,000 more than a regular diesel or $100,000 more than a hybrid, Woolen and McDonald said.

This particular one also comes with air conditioning (something not found on the city’s regular buses) and lowers so it’s easier for riders to get in and out both doors.

1.21 jigawatts?

The bus gives an exceptionally smooth ride, as there’s no engine vibration to contend with.

If you’re expecting the eerie silence of a Tesla Roadster, however, you’re in for a shock – the bus sounds like the time-travelling DeLorean from Back to the Future, producing an obvious high-pitched turbine-like whir from its engine.

A Tesla has a lot more sound insulation as it’s meant to be quiet, Woolen explains – this bus doesn’t have any. Future buses will definitely have more insulation.

The bus is still at least half as noisy as a diesel one in motion, however, and completely silent at rest – there’s no motor to idle.

Morgan Smith of PWTransit Canada (which supplies St. Albert Transit with bus drivers) test-drove the bus Wednesday.

“It’s quiet,” he said of the bus, and doesn’t have all the sounds and vibrations you get with a diesel bus.

It also has the instant acceleration and smooth ride of a golf cart.

“It’s a totally unique experience. I’m very impressed with it,” he said.

It also has a phenomenal turning radius, noted ETS vehicle instructor Debbie Wack.

“You can make a U-turn in this.”

It’s a bit more prone to bottoming out on big bumps due to the position of the wheels, though, she added.

In November St. Albert will test-drive a second electric bus that’s fitted with insulation and heaters for Alberta’s winters, McDonald said.

Mayor Nolan Crouse took the electric bus for a ride Wednesday, and said he suspects most residents will like it.

“It rides smooth,” he said, and he appreciated the air-conditioning. Buses like this might also qualify for provincial GreenTRIP grants.

It will be up to council to decide when, if ever, the city will switch to electric buses, Crouse said.

“I think the key test for this is going to be in a week of 40 below – how much energy does it use and what’s the ride like in the snow.”


Questions or comments on the bus should go to 780-418-6060 or transit@stalbert.ca.

Kevin Ma: Kevin Ma joined the St. Albert Gazette in 2006. He writes about Sturgeon County, education, the environment, agriculture, science and aboriginal affairs. He also contributes features, photographs and video.