As zero-emission buses from New Flyer Industries take to the streets in a three-city pilot project, Canadians are getting a first look at the economic and environmental benefits of this new innovation.

Although the idea of a zero-emission bus (ZEB) seems new, New Flyer Industries has been developing and using this technology for decades. Now their Xcelsior® ZEBs are being integrated into major transit fleets in a new project that aims to revolutionize mass transit in Canada.

Trolley buses with electric motors have run successfully in many cities for over 100 years, according to David Warren of New Flyer Industries.

Warren, the company’s Director of Sustainable Transportation, says that today’s ZEBs are an extension of the company’s decades of innovation in the field.

“Trolley buses have since evolved into a version of a battery-electric bus with small energy storage systems capable of running off-wire for short distances,” he says.
He adds that with advanced lithium-ion batteries, battery-electric buses with larger energy storage systems can now travel over 300 kilometres without overhead wires and without charging.

According to Warren, the environmental benefits are significant.

“The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates each zero-emission bus is able to eliminate 1,690 tons of carbon dioxide over its 12-year lifespan,” he says. “This is equivalent to taking 27 cars off the road for each zero-emission bus.”

Additionally, each ZEB eliminates approximately 10 tons of nitrogen oxides and 350 pounds of particulate matter from the air. This improves the air quality in the communities they serve. Because ZEBs also run more quietly than traditional buses, they help reduce noise in increasingly dense urban environments.

There’s also an economic benefit to using ZEBs. Without complicated emission systems, and with reduced brake wear — due to the motor generating electricity during deceleration — the life cycle cost of a New Flyer ZEB can offset the initial investment for a traditional, non-electric bus.

The benefits of ZEBs are now being seen in three markets through the Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial.

For the initiative, the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) brought together transit agencies, research teams, and manufacturing stakeholders like New Flyer to develop electric bus and charging infrastructure.

“It’s not just an experiment, though,” says Dr. Josipa Petrunic, CUTRIC’s CEO. “We call this an integrational trial because these vehicles aren’t going to be removed at the end. They’re now part of the fleet.”

CUTRIC is currently partnered with three transit systems for the project: Brampton Transit, York Region Transit, and TransLink in Vancouver.

Petrunic says there is a lack of knowledge about these new technologies, particularly from neutral sources. This is why CUTRIC partners with outside researchers to analyze the products. In addition to giving cities impartial information, this helps manufacturing partners identify ways to improve their offerings, making their products more attractive to transit systems.

“Another challenge is political reluctance,” says Petrunic. She notes that if local politicians or political staff aren’t aware of issues facing the environment, it can be a barrier to integrating the technology in a community. Projects like the Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial allow cities to see the environmental and economic benefits of ZEBs in action.

Warren sees New Flyer’s role in the trials as taking the company’s goals of environmental protection and sustainability a step further.

“Canada has become a global leader in zero-emission transit,” he says. “New Flyer and our employees are proud to be part of this movement.”