With Patrick Brown’s budget cuts and wasteful spending, where will Brampton find $9 billion to fund transit electrification?

Brampton Council was recently presented three options to decrease carbon emissions from its transportation operations by making the switch from a dirty diesel bus fleet to a combination of battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell buses.

The first would cost $8.95 billion out to 2041, the second option would cost $9.85 billion and the third would require $8.94 billion in funding.

The figures hung over the council chamber like a lead balloon, as the blank look on elected officials betrayed how economically out of place the gaudy numbers were, in a city that can’t even afford basic infrastructure upgrades.

Nonetheless, in her presentation, Josipa Petrunic, President and CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC), told Brampton’s council members that in the next two-to-six years, diesel buses will no longer be an option and a rapid transformation needs to begin now.

“Hopefully, we have the answers for you here today. They're big, they're expensive. They're complicated, but they have to be done,” she said bluntly.

Mayor Patrick Brown looked on. He has cut transit funding to the bone, postponing desperately needed storage and maintenance facilities, failed to invest in the greening of the system and would not even allow the required cost of increasingly expensive diesel into the budget two years ago.

Meanwhile, Brampton’s greenhouse gas emissions reductions requirements have been an afterthought, with a fleet of buses that still runs on dirty diesel while cities across Canada are years ahead in the transition to clean, green transit.

In 2018, Brampton was chosen for a federal pilot study using eight electric buses which hit the streets in 2021. In 2023, the City received a federal grant through the Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to study the viability and impacts of achieving a fully electric transit fleet by 2040.

While campaigning to end his mayor’s role, when Brown tried to become the federal Conservative Party leader in 2022 (before his disqualification for allegedly breaking election laws) he blatantly misled the public, claiming Brampton was the first municipality with a fully electric bus fleet. In fact, under his leadership he has slashed the transit budget and ignored green investments other large cities have made.

"I'm worried we have been ambitious in our talk, but not as ambitious in our urgency," Brown said during the presentation to council, perhaps admitting that his budget freezes have killed the ability to take action.

Brown has been criticized by residents for promoting his own political career, using City Hall resources to do so, while the needs of Brampton have been ignored. Millions of dollars in payments to previous staff have poured out the door, while he deploys armies of municipal employees to book him on news shows throughout the day and promote his own brand.

The City does not even use a properly costed capital budget program anymore, after Brown faced criticism from the local Board of Trade and others for gutting critical programs needed to move Brampton forward. The lack of a ten-year, or even three-year capital plan makes it easier for Brown to hide the growing list of ignored projects.

In the midst of his approach, the transit system has suffered, unable to expand to meet growing demand and falling dangerously behind in ignored green investments that will have to be made eventually. The cost of Brown’s failures have now caused greater sticker shock, as Petrunic laid out the harsh reality.

“There is simply no way to decarbonize without more buses”. A lot more. She told council members that the current fleet of 476 buses (almost all diesel) will have to be replaced with almost 1,200 clean buses, depending on the technology chosen.

“Diesel will no longer be an option.”

Petrunic said $132 million is required just to upgrade two existing transit facilities as part of the transition, “and then there’s a third and possibly fourth facility that will absolutely be required and they’re going to land in the hundreds of millions of dollar-zone.”

The total 18-year life-cycle cost of the option CUTRIC recommended is $8.94 billion. This includes the cost of the buses, cost of the energy source (a mix of hydrogen and electricity), charging infrastructure, operation costs, maintenance, battery/hydrogen fuel cell replacement, engine overhaul costs, insurance and fleet expansion costs.

The overall operating cost over 18 years for the recommended option is $5.71 billion and the capital expenditure would be $3.4 billion (with $161 million in savings).

The CUTRIC study presented three scenarios: a complete fleet of BEBs (battery electric bus), a complete fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses, or a combined fleet of BEBs and hydrogen fuel cell buses. The combined fleet is the scenario that CUTRIC is recommending which provides the best balance of environmental savings while limiting the need for additional operations and infrastructure.

Petrunic said the transition to this combined fleet will result in a 68 percent decrease in emissions from the BEBs across their entire lifecycle and a 24 to 61 percent decrease in emissions from hydrogen fuel cell buses (depending on the quality of hydrogen used) across their lifecycle. Given Brampton Transit accounts for approximately 70 percent of the City’s emissions, decreasing these transit emissions by 60 percent will almost get Brampton to its goal of a 50 percent reduction in emissions by 2040 alone.

Currently Brampton’s transit fleet consists of 476 diesel buses. Given the population growth in Brampton, anticipated to reach approximately 900,000 by 2040, and the increasing ridership demand — which has surpassed pre-pandemic levels — even if the City were to stick with diesel-powered buses, by 2040 its fleet would need to have 938 vehicles.

Petrunic reminded council that replacing diesel buses with BEBs or hydrogen fuel cells is not a one to one replacement, due to the ridership capacity and operational abilities of these vehicles (clean buses are not designed to carry as many passengers as diesel ones). With a combined fleet of both BEBs and hydrogen fuel cells, CUTRIC predicts that Brampton’s transit fleet will grow to 1,132 buses by 2040.

The second challenge with the transition to electric buses is the need for charging infrastructure.

“Just like an electric car, you can charge your bus up at the depot or in your garage and send it out for the day. Unlike your electric car though, your bus will for sure run out of pay up power in most of your instances,” Petrunic said. “There's no battery big enough to accommodate the energy you need for the bulk of Brampton's performance.”

Currently the City of Brampton is working on the construction of a new transit maintenance facility located on Highway 50 at Cadetta Road between Rutherford and Major Mackenzie. The project, which was initially slated to be completed a few years ago, has faced significant roadblocks and a lack of funding under Brown’s refusal to expand the budget. An initial $128 million in funding was approved in 2021 for this project, but while the new facility will be built to accommodate future installation of infrastructure related to electric buses, this is not part of the initial funding. A spokesperson for the City told The Pointer that staff continue to advocate for greater funding for future electrification initiatives but so far this commitment has not been seen from council. The estimated completion date is now slated for 2027.

Brampton has two other transit maintenance facilities at Sandalwood and Clark Boulevard, both of which would need to be retrofitted in order to support a fully electric fleet. A retrofit of the Sandalwood facility would provide the capacity to store 20,000 kilograms of hydrogen, provide 17 megawatts of power and shelter 371 vehicles. The total cost of this retrofit is estimated to be $86 million. A retrofit of the Clark facility would provide the capacity to store 10,000 kilograms of hydrogen, provide 7 megawatts of power and shelter 178 vehicles. The total cost of this retrofit is estimated to be $46 million.

The study also concluded the city would need one to two more transit maintenance facilities, the costs for which have not been accounted for. There has been no capital budget planning by Brown for these required facilities.

But as Petrunic made clear, buses cannot rely on chargers at the maintenance facilities alone as the weight they carry and distances they travel in any given day — Brampton’s longest bus route is 31 kilometres — will require charging intermittently across the route.

The CUTRIC study found that a fully electric transit fleet could operate on 18 chargers located across the city on some of the longest and most frequently used routes. Of these, four are already in place, one at the Sandalwood loop, two at Mount Pleasant Village and one at Highway 50/Queen Street.

Charging on-route means an increase in service hours as drivers have to wait for the vehicles to charge along their routes. The combined BEB and hydrogen fuel cell model would require a seven percent increase in service hours due to charging/refuelling on-route, block splitting and additional buses.

With all of these factors combined, choosing to refurbish the Brampton transit fleet to consist entirely of BEBs and hydrogen fuel cells comes with the price tag of $8.94 billion.

While Brown received the report, claiming he would like to move on the recommendations, the City budget he has aggressively influenced does not allow the required investments.

The City of Brampton’s 2024 Capital Budget allocates $66 million for diesel bus purchases in 2024 and an additional $12 million is allocated for bus refurbishments ($42 million over three years). A spokesperson for the City told The Pointer that none of the 2024 funds are allotted for the purchase of electric buses.

Brown continues to mention a possible arrangement with the Canadian Infrastructure Bank (CIB) and that an agreement with the financial institution needs to be signed before funding models change. But he has had this option available for the past few years without executing the agreement, which would force Brown to either raise taxes to finance a large loan or cut costs somewhere else.

A staff report from April 2022 outlines a funding agreement between the CIB, the City of Brampton and Region of Peel. The agreement outlined the availability of up to $400 million for the purchase of up to 450 BEBs. The loan works by providing base funding as a grant with the City repaying the difference plus interest. For example, if a BEB costs $1.4 million and a traditional diesel bus $700 million, the CIB would grant the $700 million with the remainder being supplied as a loan that would be paid back by the City.

But the CIB initiative is only available until 2027 and since the agreement was signed in 2022 the City has not used any of the funds for the purchase of electric buses. The spokesperson said the City is looking to purchase 10 BEBs in 2025 but made no mention of how it will accommodate these purchases with associated charging infrastructure.

Since the CIB loan only covers the cost of the buses themselves, the staff report also noted the loan alone would not get the City to electrification. To fund all the infrastructure and the massive operating cost, revenues will have to come from the City budget and higher levels of government.

In 2022, the City told The Pointer it had no other funding applications in the pipeline related to expanding green transit infrastructure. The City did not mention any other avenues for funding in its most recent communications.

Any grant application would require the City to come up with its own local share to be matched by Ottawa. After years of consecutive tax freezes forced by Brown, Brampton has been left with few financial options to fund a local share contribution for critical projects.

While Brown has claimed Brampton is a leader in the clean transit transition, the only action that has been taken was the pilot program, which was initiated by the federal government when the previous mayor, Linda Jeffrey, signed onto the test plan. Meanwhile cities such as Mississauga, Vancouver and Montreal (which purchased its first hybrid electric buses in 2013) are years ahead of Brampton.

In May 2023, the federal government and Quebec jointly announced the procurement of 1,229 electric buses at a total cost of $2.1 billion. Ottawa's contribution was $780 million, while Quebec is spending $1.1 billion. The remaining $234 million is being split among the 10 municipalities that will receive these buses for their fleets.

A total of 607 will be given to the City of Montreal. In 2025, the City is set to receive 46 new electric buses and an additional 140 per year starting in 2026. This will allow the City to reach its target of having a fully electrified fleet by 2040.

While the Ontario government does not appear to be as eager as Quebec to match these transformational investments, Mississauga has received accolades for its efforts to green its transit system. By the end of the year, nearly 60 percent of the City’s MiWay transit system will be hybrid electric. The latest procurement of 82 hybrid electric buses came with the price tag of $85 million.

In 2022, Mississauga was approved under the federal Bus Replacement Program which will provide the funds necessary for MiWay to purchase 358 hybrid electric buses between 2022 and 2027.

For Mississauga to receive the allotted $339 million in federal transit funding and $282.5 million through the public transit stream of Ottawa’s Investing in Canada Infrastructure Plan, Mississauga was required to contribute $226 million, or 26.7 percent.

For years, residents have been waiting for the same kind of transit investment from the City of Brampton, as ridership demand is not being met with investments to grow the system at the same pace.

When the Route 1 bus arrives at Bramalea City Centre, heading west toward downtown, on a weekday afternoon, it is unlikely you will be able to find a seat. Cramped in the 12-metre bus, shoulder to shoulder with other riders, is the common experience. Brampton riders have complained of long bus delays, no shows and buses that cannot stop during busy periods due to the lack of space inside.

Moving residents around the city has not been prioritized during budget decisions, when Brown’s refusal to invest in the city has been supported by a slate of councillors since 2022 who refuse to challenge him.

The CUTRIC presentation showed elected officials the pathway to a clean, green transit future in Brampton. With Brown looking on, after years of ignoring desperately needed infrastructure projects across the city, Petrunic laid out the key questions.

“How expensive will it be, who’s going to pay for it all and can you do it by 2040 to get to your emissions goal?”

The answers, she said, are “big” and “expensive”.

Email: rachel.morgan@thepointer.com

Twitter: @rachelnadia_

At a time when vital public information is needed by everyone, The Pointer has taken down our paywall on all stories to ensure every resident of Brampton, Mississauga and Niagara has access to the facts. For those who are able, we encourage you to consider a subscription. This will help us report on important public interest issues the community needs to know about now more than ever. You can register for a 30-day free trial HERE. Thereafter, The Pointer will charge $10 a month and you can cancel any time right on the website. Thank you

Rachel Morgan, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Pointer