Cal Nicolson gets behind the wheel of the first purpose built

Electric double decker bus arrives in Victoria

Working as a bus driver, Cal Nicolson has logged thousands of miles steering big highway coaches along an assortment of roads.

Working as a bus driver, Cal Nicolson has logged thousands of miles steering big highway coaches along an assortment of roads.

But about three weeks ago, Nicolson got behind the wheel of something he’s never experienced before — a fully electric double decker bus.

“It was like oh my god, what is this thing because the sensation on your throttle is different…But it’s so smooth and it accelerates basically in a normal fashion to what I’ve been used to for years,” said Nicolson, who’s driven the bus about 10 times now, but often thinks it’s turned off because it’s so quiet.

“Even when you start it you think it’s not running except when you see the stuff flashing on your dash. It’s exciting to have a vehicle like this in town and to think that hey, we have the opportunity to be the first guys on the road with a double decker electric bus.”

For the past year, the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority (GVHA) has been working with CVS Cruise Victoria Ltd and GreenPower Motor Company Inc. to bring the local cruise industry’s first electric bus to the city.

The GVHA and CVS Tours are leasing the bus as part of a one-year pilot project to determine the costs associated with a fully electric engine. Currently, the vehicle is going through trials at the Victoria International Airport and is expected to hit the road for the Butchart Gardens route at the beginning of November.

At 45 feet long, the bus has 99 seats, including 65 on the upper floor, and runs on 450kWh of batteries that provide a range of up to 400 kilometres on a single charge.

According to Fraser Atkinson, chairman of GreenPower, five years ago such vehicles didn’t make economic sense due to the technology at that time. Batteries cost more and were much heavier, so the vehicle couldn’t go as far on a single charge. Five years later, however, the batteries and software technology has changed considerably, allowing for less batteries and therefore, less weight.

Assembled in California, the bus costs $1.055 million US, but Atkinson said it has a fuel savings of $60,000 to $70,000 a year.

A month before the bus was shipped to Victoria four weeks ago, GreenPower conducted test trials at a regional airport in California to work out all the bugs of the intricate computer system managing the batteries. California has embraced such technology, noted Atkinson, but in Canada it’s still rare.

“There is no bus in the world that is purpose built, all electric double decker bus. This is the first,” said Atkinson, adding the few electric buses in other parts of the world have been converted from their diesel engines.

“We are in the right place at the right time.”

The bus was unveiled on Thursday morning, where a handful of dignitaries and members of the public had the chance to go for a ride. A slight hum could be heard as the bus made its way along Dallas Road, but all was silent once it came to a stop, sparking several comments from those on board.

“We are very thrilled. We want the city to follow, the government to follow and put more of these on the road,” said a man with the Victoria EV Club.

“It’s amazing,” said another woman with a child.

The bus, which will be available free of charge for use by local Greater Victoria schools groups, comes as an effort to reduce some of the noise and emissions from the diesel buses shuffling cruise ship passengers through the James Bay neighbourhood.

During a typical week of the cruise season, 15 to 20 buses pick up passengers at Ogden Point for excursions to Craigdarroch Castle, Butchart Gardens or downtown. On the weekend, that number spikes to 50 to 60 buses coming and going through the neighbourhood.

Victoria’s cruise tourism industry contributes more than $100 million annually to the regional economy. This year 227 ships pulled into Victoria, amounting to more than 500,000 passengers. The GVHA plans to make Victoria the most popular and desired port on the West Coast, and a port home for one ship by 2020.