Special Report: Transit

Staff Recommend Purchasing 18 Replacement, 14 New HSR Buses

We are supposed to have 246 buses in operation by the end of 2016, which would also mark the timeframe in which the fleet would be large enough to have addressed all pre-existing system deficiencies.

By Jason Leach
Published November 13, 2015

The November 16 Public Works Committee meeting includes a staff report (item 8.2) recommending a $19.2 million capital purchase of 32 new buses, to be paid out of the Transit Vehicle Reserve. (We can't link directly to the report due to the unusable committee meeting website).

HSR articulated bus
HSR articulated bus

18 will be replacements for current buses going out of commission, and 14 will be new buses added to the fleet. This will bring the fleet total up to 245 buses in 2016.

The Ten-Year Local Transit Strategy that Council approved earlier this year called for ten straight years of purchases adding to the fleet, which was just 221 buses in 2014.

We are supposed to have 246 buses in operation by the end of 2016, which would also mark the timeframe in which the fleet would be large enough to have addressed all pre-existing system deficiencies.

Future purchases from 2017-2024 are intended to take the HSR into a ridership and system 'growth' phase for the first time in many decades. By 2024, the plan calls for a bus fleet of 347 buses in operation.

Hamilton made a large purchase of new 60-foot buses last year and has rolled them out on regular routes that have experienced chronic crowding and pass-bys.

Our 2016 purchase appears to be solely 40-foot buses and will be provided by Nova Bus (a division of Volvo Canada) instead of New Flyer for the first time in over a decade. This is due to Hamilton's participation in a joint procurement agreement for 40- and 60-foot buses organized by Metrolinx for various Ontario municipalities.

This also marks a return to compressed natural gas (CNG) buses for the HSR for the first time in well over a decade. The staff report notes that CNG is less expensive than diesel and will result in lower operating costs.

It is great to see the City sticking with its transit plan so far, despite some perplexing issues such as the A- and B-Line bus stop upgrades that were funded through the Metrolinx 'Quick Wins' program back in 2007 and still don't seem to have been implemented. Almost nine years later, I'm guessing this isn't quite what Metrolinx had in mind when they termed the program 'Quick Wins'.

But growing the fleet of buses according the Ten Year Strategy through the first two years is hopefully a sign that the city will finally follow through on a well-developed plan to grow the HSR into a legitimate transit system that can truly start to become a convenient, enjoyable option for Hamilton residents over the next five to ten years.

The plan calls for a fleet of 263 buses by the end of 2018. I'm very interested to see how committed council is to then jumping from 263 buses to the planned 336 by 2024.

But for now, we will watch and hope that council unanimously approves this next step toward fixing, and then growing, the HSR.

Jason Leach was born and raised in the Hammer and currently lives downtown with his wife and children. You can follow him on twitter.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 13, 2015 at 09:29:17

Actually this plan is quite doable. Its averaging 12 buses a year over and above fleet replacements. With a industry average of 3.3 drivers per bus that's 40 new drivers a year till 2024, over and above replacements. The real sticking point for me though is the natural gas buses.

Natural Gas Buses may be overall cheaper to run for some operations but it does cause some very interesting engine issues. We got rid of ours in Ottawa due to the efficiency loss in the fuel reaction in colder weather. The lower the temperature the lower the efficiency of natural gas as a vehicle fuel. On certain days in January and February efficiency can drop between 40-45% with standard Ottawa winter temperatures.

Considering the winter we had last year where it never went above -10 C for 14 weeks starting in mid January, OC Transpo was very glad to see it end. When Temperatures were consistently dropping to -45-50 C at night for a week at a time (without the wind-chill effect), it was not surprising to see frozen switches on the Trillium Line(O-Train) in the morning. Having Natural Gas buses functioning in that king of temperature would have made a difficult situation, far, far, worse.

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By pardon? (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2015 at 03:49:12 in reply to Comment 114816

any idea how of the line acceleration noise levels are with either fuel? some of the current hsr busses seem to be exponentially louder than others.

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By energynut (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2015 at 09:44:41 in reply to Comment 114816

OTOH CNG runs a lot cleaner on PM10, CO, SO2 and fine particulate than diesel. Ottawa gets colder than Hamilton so maybe the efficiency drop won't be as big of a deal here.

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted November 13, 2015 at 13:02:17

I Forgot to mention, the lower efficiency of the fuel reaction also causes a considerable drop in horsepower for the bus.

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By Keith (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2015 at 13:13:26 in reply to Comment 114823

It's not like HSR buses have to go up large hills, steep grades, or anything... [/sarcasm]

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By aitch ess are (anonymous) | Posted November 13, 2015 at 20:27:16

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By MattM (registered) | Posted November 14, 2015 at 03:05:56 in reply to Comment 114831

The 60 foot buses acted as an expansion of the 60 foot fleet and replacement of a few of the 40 foot CNG buses that had come to their end of life cycle. They were mostly assigned to routes that already had a few 60 footers on them in order to increase the amounts (1 King, 5 Delaware, 10 B-Line, 27 Upper James, 51 University). Originally they were rumored to be going to the 2 Barton route to address overcrowding but that never materialized.

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By aitch ess are (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2015 at 08:42:02 in reply to Comment 114833

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By randomguy (anonymous) | Posted November 14, 2015 at 12:08:56

I'm amazed that we have gone so long with diesel instead of natural gas. Natural gas has been relatively cheap compared to diesel for years. Of course now oil is down a lot, but so is natural gas.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted November 15, 2015 at 11:00:32 in reply to Comment 114837

I may be wrong, but I think we had a bunch of CNG buses and then switched back to diesel a few years back!

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By did you even read the article? (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2015 at 16:11:33 in reply to Comment 114842

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By Balance (anonymous) | Posted November 15, 2015 at 23:58:33

Wow, let's improve transit but keep the operating costs in mind. Capital costs of new buses is one thing, a one shot expense, but operating costs and replacement costs are a new thing. I'm looking for a balance between increasing user fees and property taxes.

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