They're not as sexy as streetcars or GO trains. They don't have as much media appeal as subways or LRTs. But they're the backbone of all transit systems and they're coming soon to a neighbourhood near you… in fact, very soon, probably in the next ten minutes!

TTC chair Josh Colle speaks at Mount Dennis in front of one of the new buses. Local councillor Frank Di Giorgio, Ministers McGarry and Sohi (left) and Mayor Tory (right) look on, image, @TTCStuart

They're buses. And buses have been very much in the news over the past two weeks as governments host various events to tout their support for these public transit workhorses.

Yesterday morning, before the appalling vehicular slaughter was committed on Yonge Street, federal Infrastructure Minister Amarjeet Sohi, Ontario Transportation Minister Kathryn McGarry, Mayor John Tory, and the chair of the Toronto Transit Commission councillor Josh Colle, gathered in the TTC's Mount Dennis Garage to announce more funding for more buses in Toronto.

“[The Government of Canada is] proud to support one of the largest bus purchase and rebuild projects in the City of Toronto’s history. As a former bus driver, I know how important it is for people to have safe, accessible, reliable buses to get to and from school, work and appointments. This bus purchase will mean better transit for people in Toronto and it is part of the government’s commitment to improve infrastructure across Canada,” Minister Sohi said. (Sohi used to work at Edmonton Transit.)

Tory, Sohi, Colle and McGarry "check under the hood" of one of the new TTC buses, image @JoshColle

The dignitaries told journalists and Mount Dennis workers that the Government of Canada and the City of Toronto are together chipping in a total of $934 million to buy 1,043 new buses for the TTC and to revitalize 695 older vehicles. Canada is contributing more than $442 million through the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund, which the government first announced with its 2016 budget. The City is supplying the remaining $492 million.

With this funding, the TTC is buying 729 clean diesel and 254 second-generation hybrid electric buses. The TTC has already bought and deployed 418 of the buses that the ministers and the mayor announced today. It procured these latest-generation clean diesel Nova Bus vehicles in 2016 and 2017 for $264 million. The buses reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 49.6 tons of carbon dioxide per bus per year, for a total of 20,700 tons per year. The mean distance between failures for the buses is 28,000 kilometres, instead of 17,000 for the vehicles they replace—meaning that they have improved reliability by 65 per cent. And these new vehicles reduce the TTC's diesel-fuel costs—about $15,000 per bus per year, saving $6.5 million annually.

“Every day, the lives and livelihoods of Toronto residents depend on being able to move around our city quickly, safely and reliably. Maintaining our existing bus fleet and adding more buses on our roads will bring transit into every neighbourhood of our city," said Mayor John Tory. "There is no area where collaboration and co-operation is more essential than in keeping our residents moving. Together, we will make Toronto’s transit system faster, stronger, safer and more accessible to everyone in every part of our city.”

Colle, Sohi, McGarry and Tory aboard one of the new TTC buses, image, @KathrynMcGarry

Over the next two years, while the federal Public Transit Infrastructure Fund is still in effect, the TTC is buying another 625 buses:

  • 311 more clean diesel buses;
  • 254 second-generation hybrid-electric buses; and
  • 60 all-electric, battery-powered buses or "e-buses".

The Toronto Transit Commission's board of directors approved buying 30 of the 60 e-buses and the appropriate supporting infrastructure to maintain the buses and recharge their batteries during its meeting of November 13, 2017. TTC staff will request the board to okay another 30 this June.

The TTC invited Mayor Tory to help them launch the first 30 of the clean vehicles during two separate events last week. Three companies, BYD, New Flyer Industries, and Proterra, each manufacture these fully electric buses, which produce no emissions and contain no diesel components. Toronto's transit agency intends to buy 10 from each manufacturer by March 2019, to test each of the companies' products. The federal and provincial governments are contributing funds to this pilot project, costing a total of $50 million.

Mayor Tory boarding a prototype of the e-buses, image @johntory

E-buses, not surprisingly, produce zero tailpipe emissions and reduce greenhouse gas emissions by about 149.2 tons of CO2 per bus per year--an annual total of 8,952 tons.

An example of a 12-metre (40-foot) Proterra electric bus, image, Proterra

During the Monday, event, the federal government and the Province of Ontario announced another $20 million to support 15 other new transit and transportation projects throughout Ontario. This money, for example, helps Toronto reduce the costs for its King Street pilot project, which gives priority to streetcars along that street and, seeing as everything is now about buses, lets Durham Region Transit acquire four new ones.

Buses were also the focus of another Ontario government event April 16, when Minister McGarry journeyed to Newmarket to join her cabinet colleague, Steven Del Duca, Minister of Economic Development and Growth. They announced that the province is funding 14 electric buses and four charging stations for Brampton Transit and York Region Transit. The Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), a green transportation group, is co-ordinating the projects.

Ontario is providing as much as $13 million from its available cap and trade program fund to the two transit agencies. (The program caps the amount of greenhouse gas emissions businesses can emit to help fight climate change and rewards businesses that reduce their greenhouse gas pollution. Companies can trade allowances if they emit more emissions than the cap—to comply with the cap, they can buy credits from companies that reduced emissions and have surplus credits.)

In a news release, the City of Brampton explains that Brampton Transit has acted as lead transit agency in planning and executing this trial since 2015. According to the release, this national trial is a global first-of-its-kind consortium-based project.

By 2019, the City says, Brampton will have the single largest fleet of standardized and fully inter-operable battery electric buses and high powered overhead on-route charging systems in the world. It will operate eight electric buses—six by New Flyer Industries and two by Nova Bus—and four charging systems—three by ABB Group and one by Siemens. Local blog, Bramptonist, reports that BT will operate its electric buses along a short route—26 Mount Pleasant—and a long one—23 Sandalwood—to test the buses under a variety of conditions.

Minister Del Duca checked out one of the new electric buses in Newmarket on April 16, image, @CUTRIC_CRITUC

The provincial funds also allow YRT to move ahead with plans to buy six, 40-foot (12-metre) electric buses. The buses would likely start serving passengers in 2019 as part of a two-year electric bus trial in Newmarket. The Town of Newmarket and a local utility, Newmarket-Tay Power Distribution Ltd., are co-sponsors of the York Region pilot project.

CUTRIC's pan-Ontario electric bus demonstration and integration trial will measure benefits resulting from electric-bus technology, including lower operating and maintenance costs, less noise pollution and fewer idling buses.

In 2015, the transportation sector accounted for approximately one third of Ontario’s greenhouse gas emissions, more than any other sector.

What do you think of the new buses? You can leave a comment in the space provided on this page, or find a related thread in our Transportation Forum.