Diesel Bus purchase plan ‘makes no sense’

We all know how badly an idling diesel bus smells. No one wants to stand beside one for long. Those fumes are the smell of the past as many of the world’s cities and towns are moving to cleaner energy sources to power their local public transit systems. Recently the British newspaper The Guardian reported that the United Kingdom will now ban the sale of all fossil fuel vehicles by 2030, moving the date up ten years from the original target of 2040. California will do the same by 2035. That’s for all vehicles, not just buses. The “times they are a changin’” and faster than many of us expected.

It makes no sense to purchase diesel vehicles when they will be obsolete technology in a few short years. Yet, it was recently announced by the Town of Collingwood that six diesel buses will be purchased over the next eight years with funding from three levels of government.

Collingwood town council unanimously declared a climate emergency in October 2019. The declaration specifically directs staff “to put actions into place to combat climate change”. Purchasing diesel buses does not fit with this declaration. Collingwood is also committed to the United Nations Goal 11 of resilient and sustainable towns.  We would not possibly meet that commitment if we continue to burn unnecessary fossil fuels.

Cities across Canada are going electric for their public transit systems. In August this year, Oakville announced it will replace 57 diesel buses with fully battery-electric buses over the next six years. Edmonton rolled out the first of its 40 new electric buses last month – yes, Edmonton, in the heart of oil country and with much colder weather extremes than Collingwood!

The list of municipalities (Toronto, Halifax, Brampton, Belleville, Guelph to name a few) is growing with the goal to phase out the soon-to-be-obsolete diesel bus. And there are now at least four Canadian-based manufacturing companies making electric buses, so buying Canadian and supporting Canadian jobs is a definite option. Additionally, there are leasing options which could make the move to electric attractive and affordable.

The benefits of electric powered bus fleets are many. Maintenance costs are lower, fuel costs per kilometre driven are approximately 1/3 of diesel at Collingwood’s current energy costs, the ride is vastly quieter and the air we breathe on bus routes will be much cleaner. The reduction in greenhouse gas emissions between an electric versus a diesel bus is significant. In Ontario, we have a relatively clean electrical grid, so the amount of CO2 an electric bus would generate is approximately 0.06 kg per km compared to a diesel bus at 1.3 kg per km – that’s 95 per cent fewer emissions. Over multiple trips and through the years that really adds up to a huge reduction of greenhouse gas emissions for Collingwood.    

Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent of 2005 emissions by the year 2030. We are nine short years from that deadline. As of Oct. 1, the federal government announced new funding to speed up the adoption of zero-emission buses and charging infrastructure. The plan to buy diesel buses in the 2020s is completely inconsistent with Canada’s environmental commitments and Collingwood’s own declaration of climate emergency.

It is time NOW to take action on our climate emergency! The decision to buy diesel needs to be reversed and the funding diverted to electric buses  which will be cleaner, more efficient, quieter, more cost effective over time and contribute to Canada’s overall targets. We are asking the town to be a leader and take actions which uphold its own declaration of climate emergency.

By Ruth Plant and Bruce Clark

Members of the Leadership Team