Public transit is key for municipalities committed to a more sustainable future. Buses that still run on dirty diesel are by far the biggest contributor to City Hall’s overall carbon footprint.
This is a lesson the City of Brampton has not learned.
For years, the City has hailed increased ridership as a testament to a greener future. Brampton Transit had a steady rate of 50.4 rides per capita before the pandemic. In 2020, this rate fell to 27.6 trips per inhabitant. The City is forecasting 52.2 trips per capita by 2025 and 66.8 trips per capita by 2030. Meanwhile, as ridership increases with the city’s rapid population growth, Brampton is far behind the other cities greening their transit fleets.
To understand how the benefits of increased transit use, which keeps more cars off the road, can be combined with cleaner transit to make travel in Brampton more sustainable, the city recently won ugly.
On July 5, Brampton North MP Ruby Sahota announced $175,000 in funding through the Canadian Urban Transportation Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) to support a study of Brampton Transit’s efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while meeting user demand.
The Transit Feasibility Study will assess which local routes will be suitable for battery electric buses (BEB) and which will require a fuel cell electric bus, such as a hydrogen fuel cell. The City of Brampton told The Pointer that this study must be completed before implementation can be planned.
While this is a positive step towards sustainable transit in Brampton, it comes with a major caveat.
Many transit projects are underway in Brampton. There is construction of a new transit maintenance facility to be located on Highway 50 at Cadetta Road between Rutherford and Major Mackenzie. Initial funding of $128 million was approved in 2021 for this project which is expected to be completed by 2024. The new facility will be built to accommodate the future installation of electric bus related infrastructure; however, this is not part of the seed funding.
Brampton also has its BRT Zum bus system to maintain. Zum has a fleet of 101 diesel-electric hybrid buses that connect Brampton to nearby communities including Vaughan, Malton and other parts of Mississauga. But these vehicles still run primarily on diesel and consume only eight to ten percent less fuel than conventional diesel buses, far from the durability of battery-electric buses.
The question of how to extend the Hurontario LRT beyond Steeles Avenue, where it will turn around under the current plan, remains unanswered. A downtown extension with a tunnel under the section that would pass under the Etobicoke Creek watershed is expected to cost up to $1.7 billion in 2019 (this price would be significantly higher at the start of construction, if the option is finally approved), but Brampton has not allocated a single penny of funding following Mayor Patrick Brown’s refusal to increase the city’s budget since his election.
Brown’s politically motivated refusal to pay for needed infrastructure will not allow the city’s projects to move forward and will ultimately mean that the bill falling due when all the investments need to be made could cripple many ratepayers, especially the the elderly.
The 2022 budget set aside $17 million for the expansion of Zum System Chinguacousy Corridor services.
In addition, $13.8 million is reserved for the refurbishment of public transport. This is a tiny amount if the City wants to begin the transition to a fleet of electric buses.
According to the City of Mississauga, a BEB costs about $1.25 million (between the prices of a hybrid bus and a hydrogen fuel cell bus). Brampton’s transit fleet consists of 450 buses (regular and Zum). This brings the cost of purchasing the BEBs to just over $550 million. This figure does not even include the costs associated with building the infrastructure needed to support a zero-emission bus fleet, such as charging stations.
The City of Brampton could receive significant assistance as it continues to work on a deal with the Canada Infrastructure Bank for up to $400 million to support the purchase of up to 450 zero buses emission (ZEB) which do not have to be fully battery-electric; they can use hydrogen fuel cells or hybrid hydrogen-electricity technology.
The city told The Pointer that it currently has no other funding requests in the pipeline related to expanding green transit infrastructure. Any grant application will require the City to come up with its own local share to support any fleet greening plan, after years of back-to-back Brown-imposed tax freezes. Brampton was left with few financial options to fund the local share of critical projects.
The City says the study underway with Ottawa’s assistance, which is being led by CUTRIC, is a necessary first step in transitioning to a green fleet. The study will enable the City to apply for capital funding to assist with the costly purchase of ZEB to transition the entire fleet from the almost exclusive diesel reliance of current buses.
Brown repeatedly claimed during his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada, before being disqualified from the race, that Brampton had one of the first “fully electrified public transit systems” in Canada. These statements were obviously misleading. Brampton is far behind other cities that have pledged to fund the transition of their bus fleets to diesel.
An electrified system in the city is years away. Brampton will first need to start allocating funds to support the transition to an electric fleet. Then, before the buses can be deployed, it will take time for the City to determine where charging infrastructure will be needed along the routes, if it moves to an on-demand system, while charging and maintenance for ZEBs will need to be created. Land may need to be acquired, especially if on-road charging stations are needed.
Many cities across Canada, including Mississauga, have already approved significant funding that will bring them closer to a carbon-free public transit system. Brampton did little in comparison.
But the steps Ottawa has taken, first to launch its own electric bus pilot project in Brampton last year (the federal government provided eight BEBs to test in the city) and now its help with the feasibility study public transit, are pushing the city to join the green transit movement, despite Brown’s reluctance to pay for the transition.
The need to undertake grid electrification feasibility analysis was highlighted in Brampton’s Community Energy and Emissions Reduction Plan (CEERP) and in the Grow Green Environmental Master Plan approved several years ago. . This means that the need to complete the current study has been known for at least five years, yet the City is only just getting started with the push from the federal government.
This is no surprise considering the City of Brampton’s general mismanagement of its own environmental policies.
Despite declaring a climate emergency in June 2019, the city has done very little to work on climate change mitigation efforts. The city’s first Grow Green Environmental Master Plan was released in 2014. At the time of the plan’s first update in 2020, the city was not meeting the majority of its goals. It was only on track for three of the 20.
According to CEERP, transportation accounted for 59% of Brampton’s emissions by sector in 2016. Additionally, gasoline and diesel accounted for 59% of the city’s emissions by utility in the same year.
This shows how important electrification of the transit fleet is if Brampton is to meet its own emissions reduction targets.
The city is expected to reach a population of 900,000 by 2041. To reduce community-wide emissions by 50% from 2016 levels by the same year, and an 80% reduction in ‘by 2050, Brampton must begin to seriously invest in a green environment. transit system.
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Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer