Embracing electric school buses could rejuvenate Ontario’s struggling small and medium-sized auto manufacturing enterprises, the Pembina Institute says, in a report that urges Premier Doug Ford’s government to go full-throttle with investments in this direction.
Electrifying 65% of the school bus fleet by 2030 will create more than 13,000 new jobs and generate nearly C$2 billion in economic output in Ontario, the report concludes.
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The moment to begin is now—as demand for electric buses soars, amid predictions that global sales will reach US$3.1 billion by 2030. The North American market is already surging.
“As Canada’s automotive hub, Ontario stands alone among provinces as being especially well positioned to benefit from the global transition to zero-emission vehicles of all sizes,” said Pembina senior transportation analyst Chandan Bhardwaj. “This is not the time to wait on the sidelines while other regions respond to the spike in demand.”
Demand growth for e-buses bodes well for the province’s heavy-duty vehicle sector, which “practically collapsed after the 2008 financial crisis” and is still operating at only 10% of its pre-2008 production levels, Pembina says. The province’s small- and medium-sized manufacturers have faced the challenges of uncertain economic conditions, but with clear signals now emerging, the Ford government must prioritize support for zero-emission heavy vehicles. In particular, Ontario should renew programs to “upskill” workers for electric vehicle manufacturing that it recently shut down, Pembina writes.
Urging the “re-direction” of legacy knowledge and skills into clean transport, Bhardwaj challenged the Ford government to make good on its talk of championing small business: “By encouraging uptake of electric school buses, the province can show that it supports small- and medium-size enterprises and the heavy-duty vehicle sector.”
Of all types of large trucks and buses, “school buses are one of the easiest, and most cost effective, to electrify,” Pembina writes. Any initial sticker shock for school districts can be eased by provincial grants, since funding school buses falls within the province’s jurisdiction.
Hand in hand with boosts to GDP and job numbers comes the benefit of cleaner air and lower carbon emissions, the institute adds, noting that Canada’s “exhaust-related health costs are estimated to be about C$2.3 billion annually.”
But to accommodate e-buses and encourage purchases, Ontario must also get serious about charging infrastructure—by quadrupling its commitment of $91 million to build chargers and ensuring at least five fast charging stations in each of its 72 school districts by 2030.