Public transit is a fact of life for millions of Canadians, whether we live in the country’s largest cities or smallest municipalities. In the not-too-distant future, transit riders from coast to coast could be utilizing zero emission vehicles for the vast majority of their commuting.
While that may have seemed ambitious even a generation ago, the Government of Canada’s landmark Zero Emission Transit Fund (ZETF) is helping spur an unprecedented shift to clean transit as Canada strives to reach its 2050 net zero targets.
Unveiled last year, the ZETF has earmarked $2.75 billion over five years to support a variety of clean transit initiatives across the country. Those include everything from school and city buses transitioning to battery electric power to vehicle maintenance and the construction of related infrastructure. The investment is being made in tandem with Canada Infrastructure Bank’s (CIB) commitment to prioritize zero-emission buses (ZEBs) as part of its three-year Growth Plan.
The ZETF is just one piece of the large and complex clean transit puzzle currently being assembled in Canada. As noted in the National Post, the federal government has already invested more than $13 billion in 1,300 public transit projects since 2015. Last year, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $14.9 billion for public transit projects over the next eight years, including permanent funding of $3 billion per year for Canadian communities beginning in 2026.
So why now? What’s the rush?
Well, as it stands, the Canadian transportation sector accounts for roughly one quarter of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions. That’s a lot. By contrast, Canada has one of the cleanest power grids in the world, and is now generating more than 80 per cent of its electricity from non-emitting power sources. Transitioning vehicles away from fossil fuel to zero emission powertrains could lead to significant emission reductions.
That’s why the ZETF is such a profound opportunity in the country’s overall push to shrink its carbon footprint. It’s timely, too, as some of the world’s largest economies and private companies ramp-up their efforts to hit net zero emission targets.
“It’s huge. This is absolutely a watershed moment,” says Josipa Petrunic, CUTRIC’s President and CEO. For Petrunic and colleagues working in the clean transit space, having government support is crucial when it comes to advancing tangible change.
“The ZETF is a testament to just how much the Government of Canada is committed to reducing emissions, and we’re thrilled to be acting as the fund’s official national planning service,” she adds. “The future of clean transit in this country is being written as we speak.”
So how does it all work?
In essence, the ZETF is split into two major components — planning and capital funding. The general aim is to have sufficient planning work completed ahead of time, in order to then become eligible for capital funding. In other worlds, transit agencies will have all the necessary data on hand before making a sizable investment.
Planning projects include everything from studies and modelling to feasibility analyses. Basically, anything that could help support the future deployment of ZEBs and related infrastructure could be deemed eligible here.
Capital projects, on the other hand, support actual ZEB deployment. They include the procurement of buses, charging and refueling infrastructure, and other ancillary infrastructure needs.
“For those who are considering a clean transit overhaul, regardless of the size of their fleet or service area, robust planning is critically important,” says Parvathy Pillai, who has spent the past four years with CUTRIC as Program Manager: ZEB Consulting Services and Business Development.
“We really want to encourage agencies to have all the data and facts ahead of spending millions of dollars on expensive buses and allied infrastructure,” she continues. “That’s why CUTRIC’s ZEB Consulting Services™ focuses on scientific accuracy, which ultimately helps transit bodies select the technologies that best suit their needs.”
According to the Government of Canada, Infrastructure Canada provides contributions to support planning and capital projects that will reduce the barriers to procuring zero-emission transit and school buses in Canada. Through its ZEB initiative, the CIB provides innovative and flexible financing solutions by leveraging forecasted lifecycle operational cost savings to help offset the higher upfront costs of ZEB deployment.
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So who can apply?
ZETF funding is available to a wide range of applicants, including: municipalities, local and regional governments, provinces and territories, Indigenous governing bodies and development corporations, private school bus operators (in partnership with a public school board), federally or provincially incorporated not-for-profit organizations, and various public sector bodies.
Curious about the application process? Transit agencies are encouraged to work with CUTRIC, the planning support organization officially endorsed by Infrastructure Canada. If an applicant chooses to work with CUTRIC, an introductory meeting will be scheduled to discuss the process and begin developing a proposal for execution. Click here to learn more.