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Thunder Bay Transit eyes electric future

Thunder Bay Transit will begin exploring Route 1 as a potential first electric bus line.

THUNDER BAY -- Thunder Bay Transit's future is so bright it's going to need solar panels.

The city's bus service has committed to a feasibility study and analysis that could convert its busiest line into transit's first electric vehicle.

Transit acting asset manager Jim Suffak said he hopes to see a purchase in the near future for Route 1.

"We're looking at our existing investments plus potentials for any grant funding that could come as part of greening initiatives and technology improvements for electric buses," Suffak said. "There are opportunities for reducing the net cost to municipalities."

City council voted unanimously on Monday to sign the municipal transit service to a list of 61 organizations who are looking into electric vehicles through the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC)

While most of those organizations are in or near major population centres, CUTRIC CEO Josipa Petrunic said a city like Thunder Bay adopting electric transit technology would show it can be done anywhere.  

"The remoteness of Thunder Bay is one of its strengths, largely because what we want to demonstrate over the long term is electric buses and hydrogen fuel cell buses aren't just for urban downtown Toronto communities," she said. "They're for remote communities."

Petunic cited the potential she sees in growing the city's solar energy generation to accommodate the amount of sun in the area. She suggested communities that have public utilities like Thunder Bay Hydro could see a "job creation story" come from a municipally-led green energy transition.    

For CUTRIC, the question of cost is long term. Where replacing buses can cost $600,000, buying electric buses with small 76-kilowatt hour batteries can cost between $800,000 and $1-million. A charging station that can handle eight buses is currently selling for between $500,000 and $1-million.

Considering fuel costs, however, Petunic said the payoff on the proposed Route 1 test pilot route would begin at seven years and be $60,000 cheaper per year as it would strive for a 16-year life span.  

"Most Canadians think gas and diesel is so cheap and electricity in Ontario is so expensive but when you put electricity into an electric vehicle, it's such an efficient propulsion fuel and when you put put diesel and gasoline into an engine, it's a really inefficient propulsion fuel.

"That efficiency means electricity is the cheapest option for mobility and diesel and gasoline are really quite expensive."