TransLink’s Electric Battery Buses

About a month ago, TransLink launched its first four electric battery buses on a trial program on the #100 Marpole-22nd Street Station route. There are currently two bus models being trialed: New Flyer XE40, and the Novabus LFSe.

These are actually not the first electric battery buses to be run on Vancouver roads. In 2017, TransLink had one demonstration bus from Build Your Dreams (BYD). I never got a chance to ride it though.

Whereas the BYD had slow charging (overnight at the depot), the New Flyer and Novabus models here have fast charging at the termini. Two fast charging stations have been built at Marpole Loop and 22nd Street Station to support this trial.

New Flyer XE40 (19304) under the fast-charge station at 22nd Street Station.

After my SkyTrain OMC Tour on Wednesday, I hopped over to 22nd Street Station to find and ride these buses.

New Flyer XE40

19304 on route near Marine Drive Station

I found the ride on the New Flyer smooth and quiet. This model has a much larger battery capacity. One trip on the #100 takes reportedly about 8%.

There isn’t anything much special about the interior; it’s about the same as the other New Flyer buses we’ve had recently.

Novabus LFSe

19301 being charged at 22nd Street Station

The ride on the Novabus was a lot rougher (suspension-wise, not the propulsion, and possibly the driver…). It actually sounds quite similar to how our current hybrids sound, minus the diesel engine. This model has a smaller battery in comparison to the New Flyer, but Novabus is working on models with larger capacity. One trip on the #100 uses about 40% of the battery.

There also isn’t much special about the interior, which resembles the 2018 Novabuses we have.

The trial period

These buses are currently being run on peak hour “trippers”, but are expected to be assigned to full day blocks by November. As the two charging stations are only built at Marpole Loop and 22nd Street Station, the electric buses will be limited to the #100 route during the pilot project. The pilot project is planned to last around 2.5 years. It will be interesting to see how these perform in the snow, if we get any this year.

My T-Comm site gets its 15 minutes of fame

Earlier today, a few local blogs mentioned my T-Comm website (a live map of all the buses in Metro Vancouver):

The site wasn’t really designed for day-to-day navigation, but more for transit enthusiasts who are looking to find specific buses (e.g., the double decker test buses we have on the streets right now, 1008 and 1009).  In addition, I’ve also heard that bus drivers also use the site to locate their bus as it arrives to their pick up point.

I wish I took some time to polish up the site over Christmas, since it’s pretty much still running on the same code base (both in the user interface, and behind the scenes) as when I created it six years ago!  Nevertheless, it’s cool that the site’s been found and mentioned by some local online media, and to spread some “transit geekery” out there.

A new batch of New Flyer XDE60 articulated buses

This past Wednesday, TransLink started to put the newest batch of buses out onto the streets, in particular, Surrey streets. The transit enthusiast in me could not resist seeking out that new bus smell.

S15003 taking recovery at Newton Exchange

The previous batch had a light grey front

These buses are the same model as the previous set of articulated buses back in 2013. However, this new batch has the “charcoal top” livery instead of the light grey which I think looks much better and fitting with the rest of the fleet.  Like the last batch, these buses are fully air-conditioned.  (Recently, TransLink announced that all future bus orders will have air conditioning standard.)  These will be great to ride in the summer!

Surrey hasn’t seen a new bus delivery in ages (better transit enthusiasts can quote the exact date); they’ve always been getting “hand-me-down” buses from other depots in the area.  I guess it is a show of good faith for further development of transit in the South of Fraser area and the #96 B-Line corridor.  Twelve of these new buses will serve the #96 B-Line while the remaining eleven in the order will be distributed to other articulated bus routes in the region.

Have you had a chance to ride the new buses?  Leave your impressions in the comments!

Fun ways to get from Richmond to Downtown Vancouver on transit

I commute from Richmond to Downtown Vancouver every day for work.  Normally I take the Canada Line, which is a quick and reliable way to and from work.  As much as I like trains, some days it just seems boring; after all, the majority of the ride is underground.

So I tasked myself to find five different ways to get to work (potentially one for each day of the week), if I wanted to take a break from the Canada Line.  Let’s assume we’re commuting from Richmond Centre to Waterfront.  Obviously we’re not optimizing for travel time.

Option 1: 403, 480, 44

A nice ride to UBC then along 4th Avenue, Burrard Street Bridge downtown.  If you’re lucky, you can complete this entire route on articulated buses.

Option 2: 407, 22

I’d probably consider this one the most unscenic one, but it only involves one transfer and is a bus-only route.  Probably a good one for napping.

Option 3: 430, Expo/Millennium Line

An express bus to Metrotown, then a ride on the SkyTrain downtown.  If you’re extremely lucky, you may find a seat at the front of the SkyTrain.

Option 4: 410, Expo/Millennium Line

Kind of the same as the previous option except this one includes a highway run along Highway 91, but no express through the city.  This has a longer SkyTrain ride too, which also includes passing the SkyTrain yard.

Option 5: 407, 480, 17, 50

And finally the crazy bus-only route.  Almost guaranteed to ride four different types of buses – a New Flyer 40 footer on the 407, an articulated bus on the 480, a trolley bus on the 17 and most likely a Novabus on the 50.

Of course these options aren’t exhaustive; there are many other combinations that can loop through all parts of town.  But these are the ones off the top of my head that balance being interesting and getting to work in a reasonable amount of time.

The end is near for Whistler’s hydrogen fuel cell buses

In one week, Whistler’s fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses will be parked as their five-year pilot project ends. Nova Bus diesel buses will be replacing them as of April 1st, 2014.

The fleet of twenty buses is currently the largest fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses operating in the world. The fuelling station for the fleet is also the world’s largest hydrogen filling station.

A hydrogen fuel cell bus at Whistler’s Gondola Transit Exchange.

The hydrogen fuel cell buses were brought to Whistler by a five-year demonstration project sponsored by the federal, provincial and municipal governments, and the Canadian Hydrogen and Fuel Cell Association. The buses arrived in late 2009 and the fleet commenced full operation in time for the 2010 Winter Olympics.

The hydrogen fuel cell is a green technology as the only by-product is water. That means there are no harmful fumes emitted from the bus! In addition, the efficiency of the fuel cell is about 60-70%, which is significantly higher than the average diesel engine at 30-40%.

The world’s largest hydrogen fuelling station at Whistler Transit Centre.

One of the difficulties for the project was getting the hydrogen fuel from a green source. Up to this day, hydrogen is trucked in from a supplier based in Quebec. Although it is possible to produce the hydrogen fuel closer to home, using non-renewable resources to perform the electrolysis would negate the environmental friendliness of using the hydrogen fuel cell in the first place.

The hydrogen fuel cell demonstration project is deemed a success. The technology is still at its infancy so there’s high hope for it in the future. Although the hydrogen buses were environmentally friendly, the overall operating cost per kilometre far exceeded those of diesel or CNG buses. As the technology matures and the hydrogen infrastructure expands, hopefully the operating costs will decrease to something comparable to diesel or CNG.

For the twenty buses in Whistler though, let’s hope to see them repowered with a different engine (compressed natural gas maybe?) so that they don’t need to see the scrap heap so soon.

A Nova Bus diesel bus on the left, and the New Flyer hydrogen fuel cell bus on the right.

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