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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

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

You're suggesting that there are regulatory barriers to that. I understand but I'm not hearing what those barriers are. I'm asking for specifics, if you can provide them. If you'd like us to try to be able to make changes and recommend changes, we need to know what specifically those barriers are so that we can make a recommendation.

9:40 a.m.

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

Serge Carignan

It's a case of our either accepting their regulatory measures or modifying our own to comply with their measures. I am referring specifically to lengths, angles, types of windows, and other safety issues. I mentioned the bumper a while ago. The bumpers are good for five kilometres in Europe. We ask for 7.5 here in North America.

So it's all about these little things throughout the vehicle; it's not the propulsion system, not the electric system, that's the hurdle. It is, however, the engine. This is a big hurdle in itself, because we have just one manufacturer in North America that can build an engine for a city bus, whereas there are dozens in Europe.

So these types of measures are what the big hurdles are right now.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Blake Richards Conservative Wild Rose, AB

Not to belabour the point any further, would you be willing to table with the committee a list of some of the specific things you might like to see changed? That would be helpful to us when we are looking at doing our report.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you. I have to stop you there.

I'm going to Mr. Leung.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

Let me first say that I used to work for UTDC, 30 years ago. What I would like to know is, can you bring me up to date on the status of the fuel cell with, say, Ballard in Vancouver? Why is it not widely used in urban transit applications?

9:40 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

As I explained a little earlier, fuel cell buses are electric buses: you merely replace the batteries with fuel cells. All the traction system in the bus is the same.

The problem with fuel cells is with the hydrogen in them. Once you put hydrogen in a bus, you cannot put the bus into our depot. In Montreal we have seven very huge depots. It's quite simple; it's a problem with the electricity on the ceiling. It has to be explosion-proof. You need have to have special detectors, you have to even have some part of the roof or the wall that can be blown off, if there's a problem. Our huge depots were never meant to have these inside.

Also, the way the hydrogen is produced, it's not that clean. If you look at the bus itself, the bus produces no pollution at all. But you have to know that hydrogen is produced by natural gas. It needs energy; it's not zero-emission, when you look at it.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

Let me go to my next question, then.

Currently, in your calculation for your bus routes, what is the person-per-hour, per-direction capacity that you're looking at for urban transit, for either gas or electric buses? What factor do you use?

9:40 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

That's a tough one. We don't look at it this way.

STM bus service is built around 12-metre buses that can accommodate 60 people. The service is built with buses of this capacity that can be left outside for more than 24 hours without refuelling. I think the range is 500 kilometres.

If you change that, we have to buy more buses. If you go to smaller buses or to buses that need to be recharged or refuelled in less time, we need more depots, we need more drivers, and our operational costs would go up very fast.

9:40 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

In my experience with Asian transit systems, a lot of them expressed to me that an urban transit system, especially those using buses, is a closed system. When it is a closed system, why are we concerned about the safety regulations that we have imposed upon ourselves in Canada?

For example, Montreal itself is a closed system. I don't expect you ever to export your buses, unless, when they're finished their service life, you send them down to South America. But before that, within the seven-year economic life that you mentioned, because it is a closed system, why, if we buy enough of them, wouldn't the suppliers around the world—the Fiats, the Volvos, and all of those—not meet our requirements for the windows, for example? As far as the propulsion system is concerned, it's not a problem. Most of the stuff is just very minor cosmetic changes to the bus.

9:45 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

You have to understand that the transit bus market in Canada is not very big. Even if we have thousands of buses to buy in the next four years, those thousands of buses are for a big European company that builds every year....what?

9:45 a.m.

A Voice

It might be 8,000.

9:45 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

You have one company that builds 8,000 a year, and you have many companies like that.

They would be interested in coming to us and selling the buses and putting them in conformity with our rules and regulations if they could sell those buses to the United States, but they will never sell a bus in the United States because of the Buy American Act. That's a big problem for us.

We saw it with the midibus I showed you, the smaller electric bus. When we go to big industrial shows, they are all after me to sell me electric buses. Then I tell them that I am from Canada.

“Oh, tough luck!” That's what they told me.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

That's the same problem that existed 30 years ago with a lot of the Japanese and the Korean bus makers. At that time, the suggestion was that they should set up in the United States. Is there still a barrier to their building buses in the United States? I know that we've lost our Blue Birds, our Flyers, our Orions, and so on. Is that still the situation with the Buy American Act?

9:45 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

Yes.

You have to understand that North American buses are built to the Americans' liking. They're very huge buses. They're very tough, they're like tanks, and they're very heavy. We have them in service for 16 years in Montreal. They're very tough.

European buses are lighter, smaller, and cheaper, but they will not make 16 years in our streets, the way we use them. They will not meet the standards of NYCT, for example, which has very high standards for big buses. They have a big test, a mandatory test, for every bus, which is called the Altoona test. I'm sure that if we put a European bus through that, it would be destroyed by the end of the test, and the bus is supposed to survive this.

The European and the Asian manufacturers are not very interested in engineering a big bus like that to try to compete with big, well-established, American bus companies. So the Europeans and the Asians have no interest in the United States.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

But if you look at the MAN buses in Germany, are those not built to U.S. standards? If they're being used in U.S. airports, then do they not have buses that meet those standards?

9:45 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

In an airport, you—

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

Chungsen Leung Conservative Willowdale, ON

I mean MAN, the German makers.

9:45 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

Airport buses are special buses. They're much bigger, and since they don't go into the streets, the rule doesn't apply. You can buy whatever you want to ride on your private property. It's not a street, so they can use anything.

9:45 a.m.

Conservative

The Chair Conservative Merv Tweed

Thank you.

Ms. Chow.

9:45 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

I noticed that recently your ridership has gone up. Is that because of new technologies that you have used? I know that electric trains that I've taken are very precise and show up at the right time. Would it be the same with buses? What kinds of technology were you able to use to increase your ridership, or is it just that you run a good ship and more people like to take public transit?

9:50 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

You're right that our ridership has been rising, with record figures over the last years. Unfortunately, it's not because of technology. STM has been very aggressive with publicity, in a big public campaign saying that it's very intelligent for someone to take the bus or take the métro, and that it's not only economical, but that you're doing it not only for you but also for the planet. We're very aggressive about this, and the message is getting through.

The other thing we did was add service. I think on the bus side we added 27% more kilometres within the last four or five years, so that you wait less time for buses. It's very linked to the increase of service.

Over the years we have had financial difficulties at STM. Our budget was cut year in, year out, so we had to cut in service. But now, over the last five years, the money is back, so we put on more and more service. Even in the métro we have had a huge increase of ridership because we've added some more service.

May 29th, 2012 / 9:50 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

Do you know whether there's a body that would take all the emerging technologies, whether they're hybrid buses or things that are happening in different cities...?

Does CUTA, the Canadian Urban Transit Association, bring together all the best practices for emerging technologies, and then do they collectively identify the regulatory barriers?

For example, it was surprising to hear that you can only pilot something for one year. Why not for five years?

Is there a list of all the regulatory barriers that are preventing different transit authorities across Canada, especially big ones, from going ahead with using emerging technologies?

9:50 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

There are two sides to your question. The first side is about best practices. For the last 15 years I have been a member of many international committees. The UITP, which is the international union of transporters, makes exchanges with all the major metros of the world and all the major bus transit societies around the world. We participate in NAPTA, which is a North American association of all the operators. And of course, with CUTA, in Canada, we exchange all the best practices.

We work very closely with BC Transit on our demonstration project on the recharging of buses with induction, which I showed you. So BC Transit will be with us on this, not at this stage, because it's too early, but on the next stage when we put more buses into service. We also hope to put some buses like this in Vancouver.

It's very difficult when you gather a lot of different people to speak about the rules and standards, because internationally you have the European standards and you have the North American ones. But in CUTA, certainly, they're looking at this. We are a member of it and we work with them on this issue.

9:50 a.m.

NDP

Olivia Chow NDP Trinity—Spadina, ON

I know there's a second part of the.... Calgary, for example, wants to pilot the natural gas bus. So if they're able to do so, then you would see whether it works or not. Do you share that kind of information with each other?

9:50 a.m.

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

François Chamberland

Yes, through CUTA we do that. But you have to understand that natural gas buses have been around for more than 20 years. I don't see the point of having a demonstration of natural gas buses. You can buy them off the shelf today. Even New Flyer offered them. So it's not new technology.