Posted by Salman Khan & Michael Keoshkerian |

Public Transit Agencies Investing in Electric Fleets

In the previous blog post in this series, we spoke about industry buzzwords: blockchain, artificial intelligence, big data, and so on. And while these technologies do impact our lives in some notable ways (both positive and negative), the actual, direct, day-to-day impact can be sometimes hard to quantify. Can you sit inside a blockchain? No…but you can sit inside an electric vehicle!

In this blog, we’ll be talking about the intersection of electric vehicles, public transit, an incredible opportunity for the Toronto Region, and how our future is essentially on the road waiting for us at the next bus stop.

First, let’s frame the topic. In October 2019, Toronto City Council declared a “climate emergency,” and set a target of net-zero emissions by 2050. As an integral part of moving the city and the region, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) also set a zero-emission target, but for 2040. While subways and streetcars are already powered by electricity, buses are a different story. Since the TTC is, by a significant margin, the largest transit operator and bus fleet owner in Canada (and ranks in the top five in North America), the transition to a zero-emission bus fleet is a momentous step and critical to fighting climate change.

To achieve the zero-emission objective, on the roads and in service right now in Toronto are over 50 electric buses from three vendors; Proterra, BYD, and New Flyer. In fact, the TTC recently announced its status of having the largest electric bus fleet in North America. And this is only the first step. While these three manufacturers undergo rigorous testing in Toronto traffic and weather, a much larger procurement for hundreds of buses is only a couple years in the future. The plans are in motion, and a TTC with an all electric bus fleet, enabling cleaner air, quieter streets, and adoption of new technologies and opportunities, is well underway.

Yet, with new technology comes complexity, challenges, and a task that needs to be done right. Looking back at Toronto’s own history in public transit is an important lesson. For almost seven decades, the bus technology used by the TTC relied almost exclusively on noisy and dirty diesel engines, and just recently on those diesel engines as a generator for hybrid buses with electric motors, which had their own challenges in terms of reliability.

Beginning in 2017 and spurred by a worldwide trend of transition from diesel to electric buses, the TTC began the process of studying and preparing to adopt electric buses as the next key technology for moving the city and region.

And what makes this even more exciting is that it’s not just the TTC making big changes – across the Toronto Region from Oakville to Durham, and York Region to Mississauga, local transit agencies, as well as the provincial transit agency, Metrolinx, are in various stages of studying, testing, and deploying zero-emission buses within their own networks.

However, with this being one of the largest transit procurement initiatives in Canada (and North America), we are not just talking about buses! There’s a whole range of critical infrastructure upgrades and additions that need to happen to support this new technology.

Charging infrastructure, electric grid capacity, in-motion charging, battery development, and even elements of autonomous vehicle technology will come into play and will be necessary to support and encourage the upgrade of the TTC’s fleet. 

For example, in preparation for their own growing fleet of electric buses, the City of Brampton is installing four overhead 450kW bus-charging stations to serve eight battery electric buses. These new technologies and investments will only multiply as the scale of adoption grows.

So, aside from the benefit toward addressing the climate change crisis that zero-emission buses will bring, what is the opportunity for investment into the Toronto Region?

New technologies (batteries, software, charging infrastructure, etc.) are already being researched, tested and manufactured in the Toronto Region. Taking into consideration our strong supply chain networks and our existence as one of the world’s leading regions for automotive manufacturing, this means that when a global manufacturer wishes to tap into one of the largest transit markets in North America, they can find the opportunity and talent right here in the Toronto Region.

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Salman Khan & Michael Keoshkerian

Salman Khan & Michael KeoshkerianSenior Advisors, Investment Attraction

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