Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium
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Intro to Public Transportation Electrification from A to ZEB

Intro to Public Transportation Electrification from A to ZEB



Nearly everything is being electrified in our modern era – transportation included. While the electrification of everyday objects such as cleaning tools, kitchen utilities, and watches serves a practical purpose, the electrification of transportation serves an ethical and environmental purpose. Unlike the aforementioned practical tools, the stylish and futuristic appearance of transportation is an added bonus rather than the motivation for its creation.


Even more important than the electrification of individual transportation (cars and trucks) is the electrification of public transportation. Public transportation electrification is critical to the environmental health of Canada and other nations because it further reduces the environmental footprint while also facilitating the organic development of communities.


CUTRIC’s hope is to provide a comprehensive guide to public transportation electrification that will equip the public with all the knowledge needed to embrace the next generation of public transit.


What Is Public Transportation Electrification?

Public transportation electrification refers to the complete electrification of public transit networks. Rather than using gas-powered vehicles, municipalities are encouraged to purchase Zero Emissions Busses (ZEBs). On a surface-level analysis, ZEBs look the same, drive the same, and achieve the exact same purpose – the primary difference is their zero-emission output and contribution to Canada’s green future.


Battery Electric Busses (BEBs) are one choice for ZEBs. BEBs are exactly what they seem: buses powered solely by electric batteries. The eco-friendly nature of BEBs is undoubtedly the primary benefit of the vehicles; however, there are many other practical benefits that assert the dominance of BEBs over traditional buses. 


For instance, reduced noise pollution contributes to quieter cities, aluminium construction materials reduce the bus’ weight which in turn reduces the rate at which the vehicle wears down, and BEBs manage kinetic energy better than traditional buses which further contributes to reduced wear. While the environmental benefits are the most important, the practical benefits shouldn’t be ignored.


A second notable choice for ZEBs in Canada are Fuel Cell Electric Buses (FCEBs). FCEBs are ZEBs that contain a hydrogen fuel cell in addition to a battery with the goal of optimizing the bus’ efficiency and performance. The fuel cell contributes to the generation of electricity and does not produce emissions. Moreover, the fuel cell can be recharged in as little as ten minutes, therefore reducing the stress placed on utility grids for extended periods of time.


RNG-fuelled compressed natural gas buses are the third and final option for ZEBs. An energy source with a potentially negative carbon intensity is known as renewable natural gas (RNG). It is the product of organic matter such as food, manure, and similar waste items. The primary benefit of RNG-powered buses is that current technological infrastructure would need minimal (if any) alterations. This would greatly increase the feasibility of implementing environmentally friendly transportation options.


Why Public Transportation Electrification Is Canada’s Future

The Canadian government is on track to achieve net-zero emissions nationwide by 2050 in an effort to combat the harsh realities of climate change. Many regional governments, such as Quebec and Newfoundland and Labrador, have followed the federal government’s example and pledged their commitment to the 2050 objective. 


Reducing the national footprint to net-zero emissions requires cooperation from every individual and group – public transportation is no exception. Therefore, the need to invest in clean transit technology is no longer a wish – it’s a necessary component in the realisation of Canada’s 2050 net-zero emission goal and the cultivation of a green, sustainable, and safe future. 


Understanding the role public transportation electrification plays in achieving Canada’s 2050 net-zero emissions goal, CUTRIC announced its involvement in the Zero Emission Transit Fund. This fund aims to facilitate the adoption of zero-emission buses and the necessary charging technology. CUTRIC will collaborate with transit authorities to finish the planning process and accelerate the switch to zero-emission transit bus fleets. Our efforts will also assist communities in preparing for and addressing the major difficulties associated with transit electrification.


What Are the Stages of Implementation?

The stages of public transportation electrification implementation are composite objectives. 

It is possible today to place the stages of electrification of transit on a definitive timeline and spectrum. Notably through the decarbonization journey outlined on the CUTRIC website.


Strategic Focus

The first step, strategic focus, is concerned with helping the transit agency adapt to the ZEB climate. We work with them to set goals, expectations, and a vision. It includes determining the motivations behind the transition to electric vehicles, such as environmental sustainability, reducing carbon emissions, or complying with regulatory requirements. This initial step is crucial to ensure that all the following steps are accounted for and executed properly.


Feasibility Analysis

The second step determines the agency’s ability to adopt an electrified public transit system. It investigates technical issues including the viability of integrating electric cars into the current fleet and the compatibility of electric vehicles with existing infrastructure, including the availability of charging infrastructure. Range restrictions, charging times, fleet management, revenue, readiness to electrify, and vehicle configurations are some of the factors that determine the feasibility of adoption.


Cost Analysis

A cost analysis is performed and includes both capital and operation costs over the lifetime of the ZEBs. It involves estimating the initial costs of acquiring the buses, constructing charging infrastructure, and even improving electrical infrastructure. Additionally, operation and maintenance expenses, including power consumption, maintenance and repair requirements, and training needs, are evaluated. The industry is anything but static, and thus, agencies must be able to facilitate modifications, maintenance costs, and real-estate considerations, among other dynamic costs. 


Benefit Analysis

The fourth stage of implementation helps transit agencies develop a deeper understanding of the benefits of electrified public transportation adoption. We aim to educate them on the impact of emissions, government policy, and indirect environmental benefits. Based on emission reductions when compared to conventional vehicles, environmental benefits, such as decreased greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality, are assessed. Economic advantages, such as possible fuel cost reductions and decreased maintenance needs, are examined. Social benefits, including enhanced public health outcomes and reduced noise pollution, may also be studied.


Risk Analysis

Risk analysis is concerned with mitigating the risks that may arise during implementation. This covers technical hazards like the efficiency of the ZEBs and the dependability of the charging infrastructure. Risks related to regulations, such as modifications to laws or rules influencing the use of incentives, are also evaluated. Supply chain concerns, such as the cost, availability, and components of the infrastructure for charging, may be examined. The implementation phase’s potential interruptions are also taken into account.


Social Impact Analysis

This step entails examining the social impact of electrification on the community, passengers, and stakeholders. It involves examining variables such as accessibility, equity in access to public transportation services, and the perception of the electrified transit system. Strategies may be established to address any apparent societal consequences and ensure that the system serves all parts of the community fairly.

Needs Analysis

The next step determines the needs of the transit agency to be able to support the adoption of electrified public transportation. It involves determining the number and type of buses required, taking into account things like route characteristics, passenger capacity, and operating needs. The requirements for the necessary charging infrastructure, including the quantity and distribution of charging stations, charging rates, and infrastructure capacity, are also examined. Electrical utility systems, such as grids and charging systems, are key in the step as the transit system’s efficacy is contingent on its reliable operation. For more information about emerging transit electrification strategies by utilities see our report [Utility Strategy Knowledge Series]


As leaders in the electrified transportation industry, CUTRIC helps transit agencies identify procurement opportunities and source funding to subsidize as much of the cost as possible. Creating procurement plans, issuing requests for bids (RFPs), reviewing submissions, and choosing suppliers or contractors for electric cars, charging infrastructure, and any other essential equipment or services are all part of this step. Prioritizing elements like cost, dependability, quality, and interoperability with current systems throughout the purchase process is necessary during the process. Transit agencies will also receive help with data collection and analysis.


Empirical Data Analysis

The ninth stage is the collection of ZEB operational data which is used to compare the outcomes of prior analyses with real field data. Monitoring energy use, vehicle efficiency, charging habits, and other operational data are all included in this. The data analysis identifies areas for improvement, optimizes system performance, and makes sure that resources are used effectively. Additionally, it aids in decision-making and, if necessary, the application of corrective actions. These comparisons will be used to adjust predictions if needed and to obtain more accurate indicators for the remainder of the service.


Empirical Data Analysis

The final stage of the implementation strategy is to plan for the inevitable technological advancements in the fleet. The electrified transit industry is a rapidly growing environment with exciting new changes occurring year after year. To guarantee the system’s long-term sustainability and performance, ongoing monitoring, assessment, and continuous improvement efforts are made. Decision-making and system optimization continues to be informed by data gathering, analysis, and stakeholder involvement.


How CUTRIC Is Leading the Canadian Public Transportation Electrification Movement

CUTRIC’s role as a leading participant in the public transportation electrification movement is evident. 


CUTRIC, as the selected National Planning Service for the Zero Emission Transit Fund (ZETF), entered into a five-year agreement with the Government of Canada in 2021 to support transit agencies in their efforts to reach their zero-emission goals. This includes $2.75 billion in funding intended to assist public and school transit systems with adopting electrified transportation systems. The allocated funds will go towards initiatives like the purchase of zero-emission buses (ZEBs) and building supporting infrastructure like charging stations. 



Also, CUTRIC is hosting its Zero Emission Transit and Mobility Conference in Burlington, Ontario this fall. It will be attended by leaders in the clean transportation industry and demonstrate the consortium’s commitment to leading the nation toward a green, efficient, and sustainable future for Canadian transportation. The conference will also focus on midsized and mega transit agencies since their scale and influence has the potential to significantly influence the adoption and use of zero-emission transit alternatives.




CUTRIC is a non-profit innovation consortium with a vision to make Canada a global leader in low-carbon smart mobility. As a member, you’ll gain exclusive access to a suite of business and networking opportunities, technical planning events, conferences, and more. Connect with members, join today