Edmonton’s ambitious $60-million initiative to transition its public transportation system to electric buses faces a significant setback as American electric bus manufacturer Proterra files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
The city, which invested in Proterra’s electric buses between 2019 and 2022, finds itself among creditors seeking $1.3 million in addition to fulfillment of service and warranties.
Currently, only 6% of the Edmonton Transit System’s (ETS) 1,000-bus fleet comprises electric buses. Of these, 75% are grounded due to a lack of available parts, a consequence of Proterra’s bankruptcy and the closure of its warehouses. Traditionally, spare parts availability has been a priority for the ETS, but the current situation leaves them struggling to maintain their electric buses.
The bankruptcy has left ETS with not only grounded buses but also challenges in maintaining and operating those that are still on the road. Proterra’s filing has also raised concerns about the fulfillment of service and warranty commitments.
The electric buses’ operational challenges extend beyond parts availability. ETS drivers report difficulties with the design of the bus cab, leading to injuries and Workers’ Compensation Board claims, according to Steve Bradshaw, president and business agent for Amalgamated Transit Union Local 569, the group representing workers in operations, maintenance and security at ETS. The buses’ limited range, especially in the northern Alberta cold, further hampers their efficiency, with some electric bikes outperforming them in terms of mileage on a single charge.
While acknowledging the current issues, Bradshaw remains optimistic about the long-term viability of electric buses.
“I think it’s a viable technology, and I think it will get better and better,” he said.
However, for now, the city faces uncertainty as Proterra seeks protection from creditors, potentially leaving Edmonton with unmet claims and unresolved warranty issues, and ultimately a fleet of useless buses.
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