Edmonton city hall considers recharging idea of electric buses

The city’s push to bring electric buses back to Edmonton has some thinking of the past.

“It is back to the future,” Mayor Don Iveson said when asked by Global News about the idea.

“The electric bus is more expensive to purchase,” the mayor added.

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    The move comes seven years after the last electric trolley bus travelled down city streets. Prior to its decommissioning, electric buses transported people around the capital for 70 years.  The next generation of buses the city is looking at are different, without the need for overhead wires.

    READ MORE: Winnipeg’s new electric bus covers 100 km on just $12

    “Batteries are getting better almost everyday to the point now where you can run a bus for a couple of hundred kilometres, which works on 85 per cent of our routes, even when it’s cold out,” the mayor said.

    In 2008, when the city decided to move away from electric trolley buses, the move was seen as a cost-cutting measure that would save Edmonton about $100 million over two decades by not having to spend as much on maintaining the infrastructure.

    But Don Iveson, writing as a councillor on the eve of the last day of trolley service, questioned the motive of city staff at the time.

    “I generally give the benefit of the doubt to our civil servants, but this is one instance where I have to confess that they clearly started with a firm position against trolleys, and worked backwards to construct an argument around that conclusion,” Iveson wrote on May 1, 2009.

    Nearly a year earlier, in June 2008, as the debate to keep or get rid of the trolleys heated up, Iveson said this: “Well, it would be unfortunate if we decided in 10 years that we wanted them back against really high oil prices.  Then we would start from scratch.”

    In 2016 the city – in a sense – is starting from scratch. The head of Edmonton Transit is recommending the purchase of five electric buses; some councillors are pushing for as many as 40.

    As the push to rush back to electric gains steam, Eddie Robar, the branch manager of ETS, says the move away from trolleys was prudent.

    “I think it was a good decision,” Robar said.  “I think the industry is going in a different way.”

    It cost over $11 million to decommission the 127 kilometres of trolley lines. It will cost the city millions more to reintroduce electric buses under the battery technology. Also, transit garages will have to be retrofitted with charging stations the larger the fleet grows.

    “But then you would pay way less for electricity than you would for diesel,” Iveson said.

    As for what those new costs will be?

    “I wouldn’t be able to tell you until we know how many buses it is,” Robar said.

    When the previous council decided to get rid of the trolleys, the vote was 7 to 6.

    Had the infrastructure been kept, the current electric bus debate might look a lot different, including the questions around what the cost would be to taxpayers.

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