Three white, blue and yellow buses are seen in a large garage. One bus is on a lift. In the foreground, there's a tire leaning against a red box labeled "ROTARY LIFT."
Halifax Transit buses at the Ragged Lake Transit Centre on Thursday. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

Halifax will start electrifying its bus fleet in the next two years, with 60 electric buses en route, using money from the federal and provincial governments.

The three levels of government made the announcement Thursday at the Ragged Lake Transit Centre, which will be renovated to charge the buses and to achieve net-zero emissions.

It’s a $112-million project. The federal government will pitch in $44.8 million, the provincial government $37 million, and HRM will cover the remaining $29.8 million.

A man wearing a grey suit, white shirt and dotted tie speaks at a podium. On the podium, it says, "Investing in Greener Public Transit," with logos representing the governments of Canada, Halifax and Nova Scotia.
Premier Iain Rankin speaks during the announcement of federal and provincial funding for 60 electric Halifax Transit buses on Thursday. — Photo: Zane Woodford

Premier Iain Rankin called it a “massive investment.”

“This is a big project and this is how we get things done, to make sure that we’re growing a more sustainable, inclusive economy,” Rankin said.

“I’m proud that we have partners at this time, that we can really start to jump into the sustainable revolution, and electrifying our transportation is a big part of that.”

“We’re taking something people already use every day, transit, and we’re making it better,” said federal Fisheries Minister Bernadette Jordan, also the MP for South Shore—St. Margarets.

“It’s about building a future that’s greener, more sustainable, and it’s never been more important than right now.”

Mayor Mike Savage said the announcement is “transformative” for Halifax.

A man wearing a dark suit and white shirt speaks at a podium and gestures to his right. In the background is part of a Nova Scotia flag, blue and white, and a bus in the dark.
Halifax Mayor Mike Savage speaks during the announcement on Thursday. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

“It is, as they say, a bloody big deal,” Savage said.

“This investment says that we are unapologetically pro-public transit, that we know residents of this community want to take the bus or the ferry. Electrification of transit is fundamental to our belief that cities and communities can grow in responsible ways, that we can build complete, connected communities where people can access the services that they need, without getting into a car.”

The municipality announced its plan to electrify the entire fleet by 2028 along with the Rapid Transit Strategy last June. The current fleet is about 340 buses. As the Halifax Examiner reported at the time, it was a surprise for those paying attention to Halifax Transit’s recent work:

… the chair of transit advocacy group It’s More Than Buses had no idea the city would pitch a plan to electrify its bus fleet.

In a Twitter thread for It’s More Than Buses, Edgar described the surprise as “Quarantine Christmas.”

The last he’d heard — from Erica Butler’s reporting in the Halifax Examiner — was that the city had turned down millions in funding to pursue electric buses, saying it wasn’t ready. Even earlier this year, council approved a plan to continue buying diesel buses.

Edgar didn’t want to speculate as to the reason for the apparent about-face by Halifax Transit, but said “it’s easy to imagine that somebody somewhere in HRM thought that that was not the best plan and that municipalities should figure out how to say yes to free money.”

The city’s 2021-2022 capital budget lists “Electric Bus Procurement,” describing the project scope as, “The first phase of this project includes the replacement of 60 diesel buses with electric buses, charging infrastructure and Ragged Lake Transit Centre energy efficiency retrofits.”

In 2021-2022, HRM plans to spend $900,000 on Ragged Lake retrofits and a “Charger Optimization and State of Charge Study,” including $657,000 in “external funding” (the money announced today). In 2022-2023, it’s budgeted $55.2 million, including $40.3 million in external funding, and in 2023-2024, it’s budgeted $40.7 million, including $29.7 million in external funding.

A request for proposals is expected to go out this summer, with the last of the buses expected to arrive by 2024.

Patricia Hughes, Halifax Transit’s manager of planning and scheduling, told reporters the building retrofits would cost about $15 million, with the buses and chargers comprising the rest of the cost. The electric buses are expected to cost less to run, Hughes said.

Asked whether the province will be spending more money on public transit, something it’s traditionally avoided, Rankin said the provincial government has a role in paying for transit.

“I think that as a province that we should be helping incentivize people,” Rankin said. “The climate crisis is real, how we try to make sure that people have different options to get around, that speaks to active transit investments we’ve made.”

A man wearing a grey suit, white shirt, dotted tie and a red mask claps while standing in front of a bus.
Premier Iain Rankin claps during the announcement on Thursday. — Photo: Zane Woodford Credit: Zane Woodford

He stopped short of committing operating funding to Halifax Transit.

“That’s not on the table right now,” Rankin said. “They have transit under their jurisdiction, but partnerships is how we get things done, and there are other municipalities, so we want to make sure that we’re working with them as well.”

Thursday’s announcement was the latest in a string of spending commitments from the provincial and federal levels of government. Rankin is expected to call an election any day, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau not far behind.

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Zane Woodford is the Halifax Examiner’s municipal reporter. He covers Halifax City Hall and contributes to our ongoing PRICED OUT housing series. Twitter @zwoodford

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