Mike Thomas/Yukon News file Yukon College students board a City of Whitehorse transit bus in this 2014 file photo. The City of Whitehorse is set to purchase four new buses.

Buying buses: Whitehorse will continue purchasing diesel, for now

Yukon’s Department of Community Services is funding a report on possible electric buses

The city won’t be buying electric buses, at least not right now.

Peter O’Blenes, the city’s director of infrastructure and operations, confirmed in a July 29 interview that when a request for proposals (RFP) is issued for the four new buses the federal and territorial governments are funding, officials will be looking for the diesel variety.

A total of $2.2 million from the two governments to purchase the buses was announced July 25.

O’Blenes explained there’s a series of questions the city needs answers to before it ventures down the path to purchase electric buses.

“We’re still in the infant stage,” he said.

Among those questions are how well the batteries used to power the buses operate in northern climates; cost considerations, the staff training involved to service electric buses; and the experience other transit systems have had with electric vehicles.

O’Blenes said work is underway to find a consultant for a study being funded by the Yukon government that will look at these and other questions. The city, as well as the territory’s Department of Community Services and the Energy Solutions Centre are partnering on the study.

A completion date for the study has not been set and an RFP to find a consultant has yet to be released, but O’Blenes said it’s hoped it will be finished around the end of the year.

Edmonton Transit Service is replacing some of its fleet with electric buses. O’Blenes said Whitehorse officials will be watching that transition closely as the Alberta capital’s climate is not far off of Whitehorse’s and it will give an idea of what to expect in colder temperatures.

Even as Edmonton moves to battery-powered buses, the heating system for those buses is diesel as the batteries are not strong enough to both heat and operate the bus, O’Blenes said.

The buses being purchased by Edmonton are programmed to recharge a bit as they slow down and stop. Therefore, he said, they may not be suited to Whitehorse as there is often a gap in how often Whitehorse buses have to stop between the downtown and other neighbourhoods away from the downtown.

There’s also still a major cost difference with a diesel bus running at about $520,000 and electric buses at around $1 million.

So as some buses in the Whitehorse fleet approach the one million kilometre mark and require more servicing of late, the city plans to move quickly with the purchase of four diesels, putting out an RFP this fall with a contract award expected before the new year.

“We do need to start replacing buses,” O’Blenes said.

Speaking as an individual, he said he believes it’s a matter of when, not if, the city adds electric vehicles to the fleet.

The study will help determine the direction the city takes.

There is still $9.8 million in Public Transit Infrastructure Stream (the same fund being used the purchase the four buses and a new transit station) that can be used over the next nine years in the territory. It’s possible that funding could eventually go to buying the first electric buses for Whitehorse’s 13-bus fleet, O’Blenes said.

Contact Stephanie Waddell at stephanie.waddell@yukon-news.com

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