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Canada’s Pandemic Budget the Perfect Opportunity to Expedite Transit Innovation

Modern city bus
Modern city bus
Header - Dr. Josipa Petrunic

Dr. Josipa Petrunic

CEO, The Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium

Dr. Josipa Petrunic is CEO of The Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium, the non-profit responsible for the development and commercialization of low-carbon transit technologies.

I recently joined the federal government to announce massive investments in public transit: $2.75b over five years to electrify transit fleets with zero-emissions battery and hydrogen fuel cell electric buses. It’s thanks to the leadership of Minister Catherine McKenna, who has championed public transit at the Cabinet table advocating to build back better through green infrastructure projects that directly support the mobility needs of Canadians.       

Just five years ago there were only a few dozen pilot buses on the roads in Canada, now, the industry has deployed nearly 100 zero-emissions buses – with another 250 in short-order.

The funding will not only help achieve the government’s goal of 5,000 ZEBs, it will also be pivotal in eliminating 750,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions annually and in creating hundreds of thousands of good jobs.     

Even with billions committed, there is, however, still work to do to harness the transformational benefits of transit innovation.

Electrification is complicated, requiring a complete overhaul for transit agencies including new energy storage and charging technology, with some high-powered systems installed directly on routes, as well as local green hydrogen production amongst other complex considerations – all backed by a highly-skilled workforce.

Smart feasibility studies are necessary, and secure tax efficient and evidence-based procurements saving Canadians millions.

The government must support and require smart roll out planning that includes these studies. Planning for zero-emissions buses and their allied energy infrastructure means feasibility studies driven by physics and mathematically-based modelling. Lifecycle physics and economic calculations that tabulate how these zero-emissions buses will perform in local communities, whether they will run out of energy while in-service, how much energy they need onboard at the start of the day, as well as how much energy needs to be pumped into the vehicle throughout the day are all vital calculations required before committing to purchases.

Agencies need to know ahead of time what the electricity or hydrogen bill will look like compared to their current diesel bills and whether their routes need to be redesigned to match any limitations of the technology before they buy.

CUTRIC, the organization I lead, has spent years developing the non-profit Rout∑.i™ 2.0 tool with transit members to do just that. We’ve used it to run tabulations for cities across North America. This non-profit technical work has helped transit agencies walk into this complexity with eyes wide open.

The pandemic will subside, and cities will return. We will know better in the future how to keep transit riders and drivers safe and healthy so they can help keep the economy humming. Transit will soon come back, but it needs to be better – faster, smarter, cheaper, and greener for all Canadians. Money is the first step, now we need smart planning to get this done.

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