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Evidence of meeting #39 for Transport, Infrastructure and Communities in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was bus.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

Étienne Lyrette  Corporate Advisor, Governmental Affairs, External Relations and Strategic Planning, Société de transport de Montréal
Serge Carignan  Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Société de gestion et d'acquisition de véhicules de transport
François Chamberland  Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

10:15 a.m.

Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

François Chamberland

No. Actually, we only saw 12-metre electric buses in Shanghai. These buses were only able to do a hundred kilometres with the battery charge. They have another type of 12-metre bus in Shanghai that they recharge at every stop. They have a rig on the roof that goes up and connects to a wire that they lower, like a trolley. They go to the next stop and they recharge. They don't use a battery, but a supercapacitor.

We are not very interested in this because it's very slow. At every stop you have recharge. I think it's an academic exercise: they wanted to prove something, and that's what they did. It's not really transit-oriented technology, but a technological demonstration.

In Europe they have a lot of smaller electric buses. They have four companies that build them. They use them in Paris and Rome, in the historical centres of many cities, or where it's sensible to have no noise, no pollution, and smaller buses. We were hoping that these companies would offer us some buses when we went for public tenders to get some, but with all of the regulations and changes that were required of them, with the differences involved, they would have had to make investments in doing so. And it was only for seven buses, so they were not interested in bidding for a contract. That's why we got buses that are to be built in the United States by DesignLine.

May 29th, 2012 / 10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

That does answer my question very clearly, but it brings me to another question. My sense was that by making changes in the regulations and opening up the European market, we were going to allow you to bring in the 12-metre buses that you need. Now I'm hearing that would not be the case.

Is there a huge advantage over the 9-metre buses in Europe compared to the seven buses that you're bringing in? Are they far superior in how they're made? Are they far superior in lifespan? In fact, I guess that ties in a little bit because you were talking about the life cycle of a bus from Europe compared to a North American bus, that a European bus probably wouldn't even survive the testing phase in the United States. I'm looking at it and asking if you are getting a far superior bus. I would assume so, based on the standard testing that this North American bus would have to go through.

Where is the rationale for this huge need for this European bus? I'm not saying it's not there, but I'd like you to maybe explain to me why we have this huge need for the European market.

10:20 a.m.

Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

François Chamberland

For the electric buses, as I explained, the problem is not the traction, it's not that technology, but only the batteries. If you want to have some range, you have to have a smaller bus. That's why electric buses in Europe today are only smaller buses, 9 metres long. But within the next 5 or 6 years, and maybe 10 years if we're unlucky, the battery industry is really gearing up for the auto industry. They are investing millions and millions of dollars to develop the electric battery because they want to sell it to the car industry.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

Lawrence Toet Conservative Elmwood—Transcona, MB

I'm sorry to interrupt you, but we did have a witness a little while ago regarding battery technology who essentially said to us that nobody knows when battery technology is going to get to where it needs to get. Even though they've done more than 30 years of research, he indicated that there's a good chance we're looking at another 30-plus years before we actually get to that point. I think we've got to be careful making assumptions that we're that close, because we've had experts on battery technology who have told us they don't believe they're even that close.

10:20 a.m.

Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

François Chamberland

I showed you that STM is aiming to get a 12-metre bus with a decent range by 2025. This is not out of nowhere: it's a consensus that we have with international experts from the industry and from our involvement in UITP, a consensus with STM and other big operators around the world. We have a battery industry in every country, and we're very confident of this figure, that 2025 will be it. Maybe it will be 2027 or....

In Quebec we have IREQ. I don't know what it is in English. It's the research centre from Hydro-Québec. They already have a battery that can do the job, but it's a prototype. It costs so much. We cannot put that in a bus today because it's not readily industrialized. But it's a 10-year process, and maybe we're three years into it. I'm quite confident that within less than 10 years we can get more than 300 kilometres out of an electric 12-metre bus. Then it will be interesting.

You have to understand that there's no challenge with doing the traction. Electric traction is very old; it was in the streets of Montreal in the 1940s. It's only a matter of the batteries and whether we can get energy sources that can be stocked somewhere. We're getting there. My comment was about the amount of money that they put into the battery industry now.

10:20 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you. That ends the first round.

I'm going to open the floor for one more round of a couple minutes each.

I'll start with Monsieur Aubin.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

In fact, before we let you go, there is one topic that we have said virtually nothing about and that I would like to hear you talk about for a few minutes. And that is your inductive recharging research project.

I would like to know how that works. Unless I am mistaken, earlier you said that you have to stop for at least a few minutes above the plate. So it is not a plate that you install at red lights, where the buses pass and take advantage of that to recharge. What system is it?

10:25 a.m.

Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

François Chamberland

A lot of promises have been made about the induction system. A lot of things have been shown and a lot of ideas about it have been bandied about. We are working on this project and we are trying to make it work with our partners, which are Bombardier and Nova Bus.

We have seen that there are a lot of genuine constraints. For example, you have to protect the passengers from electromagnetic radiation. As you will understand, the energy radiating underneath a bus is very intense.

As for the plate, it is not easy to get a bus with a floor 1 cm off the ground. That cannot work. The plate has to be as close as possible, with a mechanism that can lower the plate to pick up the energy. We have not yet designed an operating bus, but we believe it will be necessary to recharge the bus for 10 minutes so that it can operate for 50 minutes. We want to test all that. That is the point we have reached in our current calculations.

Consequently, it would not apply to an express bus route or a busy route. We anticipate installing the service at Parc des Îles in Montreal. That would be perfect because the bus would do a short loop in 30 minutes and wait 10 minutes at the metro station, where we would install the plate. If there were 2 plates, the waiting time would be 5 minutes for each plate, and if there were 10 plates, it would be 1 minute. However, the plates are equipped with a small electric device, which involves a lot of money. So that has its limits.

We cannot really deploy it as such. There are still a lot of questions that must be answered. This is really a research and development project.

10:25 a.m.

NDP

Robert Aubin NDP Trois-Rivières, QC

Thank you.

10:25 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Monsieur Coderre.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

First I want to thank you and to congratulate you. We should not give our thousands of listeners the impression that you misled people when you talked about federal government funding. I understand that public transit must remain eligible under the next program and that there should be a greater investment in research and development. That is what must be understood and that is what you said. Those who did not understand that may have been listening to something else during this time, or were playing with their machines rather than listening to you, but that is their problem.

It would be important to mention and to understand that the purpose of all the regulations on standards and norms is to give you a broader range in this environment. The idea is thus to have the opportunity to get the necessary tools so that your plan for 2025 can be implemented.

You talked about motors, but there is obviously the whole question of batteries. Am I to understand that, if the Canadian government invested more in research and development, that might speed matters up with regard to battery storage capacity? That would enable us to reduce battery size and weight in order to achieve your ends.

10:25 a.m.

Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Société de gestion et d'acquisition de véhicules de transport

Serge Carignan

That is correct. We do not necessarily want to buy vehicles manufactured outside Canada or North America. That is not the objective.

There are currently products available only in those locations. The authorities do not know exactly what technology they will want to adopt or what technology will be best for the future. We have to test a large number of technologies, to learn from those technologies and perhaps to demonstrate to the North American industry that such and such a technology could meet our criteria and that development could be done in that area.

Since projects are currently under development in North America, we cannot test them. However, there are other projects outside North America that we can test. It is by testing four technologies that we will be able to determine, for example, that we need the third one. In so doing, we would be able to focus our energies in order to acquire those vehicles in three, four or five years, for example.

10:25 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Among the standardization problems—that is what we are talking about, in particular—there is also this whole notion of the transition from research and development findings to commercialization.

In your recommendations, you talk about working on intellectual property. It is important to protect what we produce here, just as it is to ensure that we can reproduce what we transfer from elsewhere. In intellectual property, would that be one of the elements that could also help you in a potential agreement with Europe, for example?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Société de gestion et d'acquisition de véhicules de transport

Serge Carignan

This is something important. François explained that IREQ had developed new battery technologies that have been used by others, not necessarily under licence. So when we study those products, we will obviously have to comply with the patents.

Here, however, we have no finished products that use the battery technology we have developed here. Once the patents have been accepted and bought elsewhere, we could test a bus that is made in China, for example, using technology designed in Quebec. However, the battery is integrated into the Chinese bus; it is not integrated into the bus here right now.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Mr. Carignan, I am not asking you to be partisan because that is not your job. However, we talked a lot about Transport Canada's way of being and behaving within the machine. For example, we like to protect our standards from outside interests, and that is normal.

Do you think we are ready to do some serious thinking? Lastly, should we come to the conclusion that there are no more borders and recommend that Transport Canada also play a role in its way of addressing this entire regulatory issue?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Société de gestion et d'acquisition de véhicules de transport

Serge Carignan

Earlier we mentioned that this was a closed circuit. Transit authorities are closed units. A City of Montreal bus never leaves the island. We are talking about a closed circuit, closed garages. These are not products that the general public can acquire. For that reason, there may be different things from the delivery point where the person goes to buy his materials. They are used for a specific purpose, to meet specific needs.

There is nevertheless a lot of work. I am not criticizing Transport Canada's inaction, on the contrary. It is something important to examine. It is important to conduct that analysis if we want to advance at the same speed as the rest of the world.

10:30 a.m.

Liberal

Denis Coderre Liberal Bourassa, QC

Do you believe that all the safety and regulatory measures are satisfactory, in the way you operate?

You obviously come from a municipality. There is a constitutional reality, and we will not get into that. However, Transport Canada has a role to play in safety. Are you satisfied with the regulations, or are there things that we should improve or at the very least examine right now?

10:30 a.m.

Director, Engineering and Technical Services, Société de gestion et d'acquisition de véhicules de transport

Serge Carignan

The safety standards are very high.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Mr. Richards, a final question and comment.

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Thank you.

I want to pick up on a little conversation that we had earlier but which was cut-off in that round.

Regarding natural gas versus fully electric vehicles, I think you stated that there were actually next to no emissions from the electric bus in Montreal and that the greenhouse gas emissions from natural gas compared to electric buses there were four times greater. That was based on a study you had indicated was done by a university somewhere. I wanted to ask a couple of questions relating to that.

I know that when the batteries for an electric vehicle are produced, there will certainly be some greenhouse gas emissions produced by that. Was that taken into consideration as part of that study as well?

10:30 a.m.

Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

François Chamberland

Yes. The study was made by a group of experts at École Polytechnique de Montréal and we have a preliminary report. Before it can be published, this report needs to be challenged by international experts. That is ongoing now.

When I said there were no emissions from electric buses, it's when you look at a bus in Montreal. That bus has no emissions, when you look only at the bus compared to a natural gas bus. But the study takes into account—

10:30 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Can I stop you there for a second?

My understanding was that you had indicated, or at least it sounded to me as though you had, that you were factoring in a lot of things, including the transportation. You were indicating that it was specifically for Montreal, which was further away from where the gas was produced. So it sounds to me as though you're factoring in those kinds of things in the study, yet the production of the battery wouldn't have been factored into it. It seems odd to me that it wouldn't be factored in as well.

I guess what I'm suggesting is that you find it difficult to share with the committee the actual study itself—which, as you're saying, is a preliminary study that hasn't been peer reviewed or anything of that nature—but are willing to make statements at this point from that the preliminary study. I find that a little troubling, to be honest. I would suggest that the committee would like to know when that study has been verified or peer reviewed. I find it very troubling that you'd make a verbal statement that you're not able to back up with the study itself. I just find that a little troubling.

We'll maybe move on from there.

I guess what I'd like to ask, concerning the fully electric vehicle itself, is about the testing that has been done. I know you've mentioned some of the specifics with respect to the winters we have here in Canada, but you can tell me a little bit about the testing that has been done concerning the climates we deal with? How certain are you that the fully electric buses can be fully implemented in Canadian kinds of climate?Would we be simply looking at hybrids? What kind of comparisons have been done in that regard with other technologies?

10:35 a.m.

Director , Engineering Service, Operation, Société de transport de Montréal

François Chamberland

Just to reassure you with a final note on this, the study about the total greenhouse effect of every technology is taking care, in the case of electricity, of even the impact of the barrage and the battery recycling from all the cycles. There are greenhouse gases produced by electric buses, but the emissions are very low. The lowest of them all is from the trolley buses, because you have no batteries.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Sir, just give me one second to interrupt.

I appreciate that. It's just that I find it difficult when you can't provide us with a study, the background that is the basis of your statement. So I certainly would love to see that when it's been done.

10:35 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Monsieur Coderre has a point of order.