Kingston’s public transit riders can now ride one of two electric buses featuring a first-in-fleet touchless wheelchair securement system and “whisper-quiet” engines.
“This is the future of transit, we’ve known that for a number of years. That’s part of Council’s commitment to begin the transition from traditional buses to electric,” Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson said at a press conference to launch the new buses. The seats on the buses are also 25 per cent lighter than traditional bus seats, reducing the weight of the overall load within the buses.
“As we are coming out of the pandemic, people are getting back to more regular habits like being able to take transit again. Being able to offer state-of-the-art buses that look great, work great, that can get people to where they need to go, and, at the same time, to go with a lower carbon footprint—that’s critical for us as a city to be able to lower our carbon emissions, to meet our climate goals,” said Paterson.
“This is the first two of many, our goal is to transition entirely into electric buses.”
Ontario’s Minister of Transportation, Caroline Mulroney ,as well as Kingston and the Islands MP Mark Gerretsen also attended the press conference at noon on Thursday, July 29, 2021.
“I’m very happy to be here to celebrate the partnership that we have with both the federal government and the city of Kingston to deliver these electric buses. This is a step in the right direction—the greening of Kingston’s fleet—to meet our provincial climate change goal,” Mulroney said.
The provincial government has invested almost half a million dollars in the electric buses.
“Our government is committed to supporting public transit. As we are emerging from the pandemic, we have seen the effects on all sorts of sectors. In particular on public transit, ridership has fallen, people are staying home… it’s had a serious impact,” she added.
MP Gerretsen said that “it is a real pleasure to see that these buses have arrived. I’m looking forward to seeing more, to see that the entire fleet is electrified. Ultimately, that is where this government wants to get to, and it’s where we need to get to.”
Gerretsen added that the federal government announced last year a $17-million investment to use towards electrifying transit systems and improving the accessibility of transit for constituents throughout cities.
“This is an incredible initiative by Kingston city council… This is something that is talked about amongst my colleagues. [They ask me] about the free transit bus passes for high school students. To know that this Council has continued with that, truly speaks to the level of commitment that we have in educating young people in the importance and efficiency of public transit,” Gerretsen said.
Both Paterson and Gerretsen also recognized the work of Jeremy DaCosta, Transit Manager for Kingston Transit.
“I have never met anyone as passionate about transit as Jeremy, he has done an amazing job turning this vision into reality,” Paterson said.
“To see the increase in ridership be at the forefront in terms of more people using public transit to get around the city, that’s happening right here in Kingston. It is because of the incredible work of Jeremy and those that work at Kingston Transit,” Gerretsen added.
“Most importantly, something like this doesn’t happen without partnerships in upper levels of government. I am delighted that both the federal and provincial governments have been so supportive in letting us buy the infrastructure dollars to make this possible,” the Mayor said.
According to DaCosta, electric buses are unique and feature a few new things including the lighter weight seats and a touchless wheelchair securement system.
“If you can reduce the weight of the bus, it allows the bus to travel farther. From an accessibility point of view, this is the first in our fleet to feature a touchless wheelchair securement system, which will allow passengers to board the bus and secure themselves independently.”
The two new Flyer Xcelsior CHARGE XE40 buses are fully electric, 40 feet in length, and have up to 345 km in range, depending on factors such as topography, passenger capacity, and heating/cooling system operation. They each take up to four hours to charge it completely.
As for the “whisper-quiet engines,” DaCosta said, “They are silent—no exhaust, no engine noise. For somebody on the street, it will be quiet when they pass you by.”
Riders will not notice any difference in terms of arrival times. DaCosta said that the change is more from an operational and a planning perspective, as Kingston Transit has to be much more diligent in the way the buses are assigned.
“You can’t expect these buses to run 20 hours. For passengers, they will see the bus arrive on the same routes and schedules, but they will be quite delighted to find out that the route they are taking now features electric buses,” he said.
DaCosta admitted that the capital costs for electric buses are higher, however, operational costs will go down.
“What is not known is how that will play out over the entire life of the vehicle. For Kingston, we are starting out with these two. This will form the foundation for the next work—that is beginning now—to understand how to electrify the rest of our fleet,” he said.
“We’re going to test them out, try them out. The vision of the city is to be able to transition entirely to electric,” Paterson added.
Gerretsen said that, at the same time, the federal government is looking for opportunities to get the economy going again.
“We are interested in green, renewable initiatives, this being one of them. Purchasing buses like this to electrify our system is in line with the objectives of the federal government. We made an announcement about six weeks ago that we’re going to be moving towards all light-duty and regular vehicles to (have) zero emissions by 2035… in less than 14 years,” he said.
“Although that directive doesn’t cover buses, you’re going to see larger vehicles move to electric as well as the economy starts to shift.”
As the routes for the buses have to be carefully planned, there will be no set route for the electric buses. However, Maggie Yntema, one of the two trained electric bus drivers, said that the best way to catch the new buses is to board transit on a weekday afternoon.
The total budget for the project is $2.7 million, with grant funding from the government of Canada ($593,914), government of Ontario ($494,879), Investing in Canada Infrastructure Program ($1,089,712), Federation of Canadian Municipalities ($556,875), and municipal contribution ($1,067,289).