Hamilton tests new fleet of electric buses

The city has completed its 2nd of three tests that started in late 2018 to determine whether it’s time to “introduce battery electric buses into service in Hamilton”.

Mayor Eisenberger began this journey in March 19, 2018 at a Public Works Committee meeting directing staff to investigate, and possibly test, electric buses in preparation for future procurement. The series of tests now puts Hamilton on the list as one of the most forward-looking Canadian cities when it comes to transportation.

The HSR hasn’t had electric buses since the last of the trollies were retired several decades ago and in 1985 a pilot-program using Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) as a propulsion fuel in place of diesel was run for a time, so Hamilton is no stranger to testing new transit technology.

Proterra Inc. is the subject of this 2nd test that was carried out at the end of April 2019. Based out of San Francisco, the bus in question is the Proterra Catalyst 40 ft which seats up to 40 people. The subject of the previous test was the New Flyer Xcelssior Charge which took place in November 2018.

Proterra’s website states that their company is “a leader in the design and manufacturing of zero-emission electric buses that reduce fleet operating costs and eliminate dependency on fossil-fuels”.

Common benefits of this new age of electric buses include innovative long range battery cells, long-term cost savings, minimized maintenance and fuel costs, street noise reduction, and of course zero emissions.

As always there are negatives, but not many to make mention of. There is a larger upfront investment cost and these electric buses must still pass the test in their new Hamilton environment that includes our cold winters and steeper-than-average escarpment grade. Proterra confidently states that their Catalyst can climb up to a 28% grade which is almost double some parts of the escarpment road routes.

While Hamilton is no crusader in moving to electric vehicles, it certainly is one of the first Canadian cities to do so. Edmonton recently purchased 50 Proterra electric buses, making them the largest e-bus fleet in Canadian history. This adds to the list of notable cities which have started to introduce or completely replace their fleet with electric buses from Proterra including Washington DC, Chicago, Dallas, and Nashville.

What is particularly innovative about these buses is how light and quiet they are. They run at 57 db which is lower than the average in-person conversation (60 db) and 15 db lower than a traditional diesel bus, making them ideal for local neighbourhood routes. Their exterior is made of a fiberglass composite, making them corrosion-resistant to our road salt and their lightweight design makes them less prone to damaging our roads (if you’ve driven down King or Main recently you will appreciate this benefit).

These buses have a 12 year guarantee on their batteries over which Proterra claims the savings will be $462,000 USD vs. using a traditional diesel bus. So there’s not only an environmental and infrastructural benefit but also an economical one for the city, too. It’s not often you get a trifecta of environmental, infrastructural, and economical benefits all from one decision outcome.

As the City compiles the information and testing data, we will await the results as to their feasibility for use in Hamilton, not to mention the discussion of how they will be integrated into the LRT plan. With short and long range capabilities, we will see how far these buses will take us into the future.


  • Proterra Inc. is based out of San Francisco
  • Proterra is a leader in the design and manufacture of zero-emission electric buses that reduce fleet operating costs and eliminate dependency on fossil-fuels
  • Purpose built fiberglass composite body, meaning that it is not a retrofit and will be lighter than diesel
  • Currently testing short and long range routes, including escarpment accesses.
  • 40 ft long range battery electric bus
  • 209-321 kilometres per charge
  • Can even charge on the route for extended routes.
  • Over 12 year lifetime
  • 75% of the materials that make up the bus are sourced within the USA
  • A high power-to-weight ratio contributes to the best acceleration in the transit bus market—from zero to 32 km/h in less than seven seconds with the ProDrive drivetrain, and less than 5 seconds with the DuoPower drivetrain.
  • 57 db noise of bus vs. 60 db the noise of a normal conversation. 72 db for a diesel bus
  • Zero emissions verses CNG (Compressed Natural Gas), Hybrid and Diesel buses
  • Fuel cost of 19 cents USD per mile versus 59 cents (hybird), 67 cents (CNG) 76 cents (diesel)

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