Quebec's Nova Bus

Magic Bus: Canada’s two leading transit-vehicle manufacturers—Manitoba’s New Flyer and Quebec’s Nova Bus, seen here—are each providing a pair of battery-electric buses for an ongoing trial on two routes in Vancouver.

When you board a battery-electric bus, give a virtual high-five to PICS researcher Anaissia Franca.

Battery Electric Bus #7 departs the depot at 6:05 am and travels its route for three hours before taking on a dozen 108-kilogram rugby players and climbing a four-kilometre 25 percent grade. When will it need recharging?

For her Master’s thesis, UVic mechanical engineering student and PICS Transportation Futures industrial researcher Anaissia Franca wrote some code to find out, under the supervision of UVic Associate Professor, Curran Crawford. The software tool she created, called ECONS-M, tracked the current that flows in and out of a bus battery— and much more, moment to moment—as a coach makes its way across town.

Next Stop, Montreal

Franca wanted to get a precise handle on a given battery’s lifespan. But the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) knew the tool could do more. After all, if a given transit agency could predict the energy a battery electric bus would need for a given route, then it could plan charging time, costs, and greenhouse-gas benefits across a whole system.

In April 2018, Franca moved to Montreal to join CUTRIC as a research strategy manager. She worked with the agency’s modeling team and after incorporating feedback from bus manufacturers and the companies that supply them, the coalition integrated the tool into its Transit Route Performance Simulator (TRiPSIM).

TRiPSIM helps transit agencies predict how zero-emissions vehicles will perform on specific routes. The simulator models each transit route using different scenarios at various times of the year, and with specific topographies, and passenger loads. Franca and her team can accurately predict how battery-electric versus hydrogen fuel cell buses or autonomous smart vehicles stack up against each other and/or diesel vehicles for performance, energy consumption, charging requirements, and costs.

“Transit agencies want to understand which bus routes to electrify first and how long the batteries can last between charges,” says Franca. “Our tool informs their system planning and emissions savings, so they can begin strategically electrifying their fleets.”

A National Impact

Transit agencies including the Toronto Transit Commission (ON), TransLink (Vancouver, BC), York Region Transit (ON), Brampton Transit (ON), Halifax Transit (NS), London Transit (ON) and many more have benefited from the tool’s findings for their work evaluating battery electric buses.

On the fuel cell side, MiWay and the city of Mississauga have received modelling outcomes used in the planning of their fuel cell bus deployment project. Cities planning to deploy autonomous shuttles, such as Vancouver, Surrey, and Calgary have also benefited from the outcomes of this tool.

The tool has also helped inform CUTRIC’s Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial, which aims to demonstrate that overhead fast chargers will be compatible with different bus and charger manufacturers. The $40 million trial project includes 18 electric buses and seven overhead chargers in total in the three participating Canadian cities.

In 2018, Vancouver’s TransLink transit authority kicked off the project and became the first of three transit agencies—the others are in Brampton and York Region in Ontario—to trial battery-electric buses. TransLink used TRiPSIM to model the buses that are now running on route 100 in South Vancouver. I

n July 2019 Franca moved on from CUTRIC, but the code she developed with support from PICS will stay right where it is—helping transition transit systems across Canada.

A battery-electric bus charging.
Docking Station: Many battery-electric buses, including New Flyer’s Xcelsior Charge, above, can juice up via a standard plug and cable or via an overhead charging station like the one shown here. The high-voltage gantry docks on a port on the roof, and can charge a bus in four to five minutes.

Franca, Anaissia, “Electricity consumption and battery lifespan estimation for transit electric buses: drivetrain simulations and electrochemical modelling,” M.A.Sc. Thesis, University of Victoria, March 2018.