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Manufacturer's bankruptcy stalls repairs to Edmonton's electric bus fleet


Myriad problems have forced the Edmonton Transit System to hit the brakes on using its relatively new electric bus fleet.

Most of the city's 60 electric buses, introduced in 2020 and touted as efficient in terms of both power and cost as well as its quiet operation, have been parked due to difficulties sourcing replacement parts.

Add to that the company that manufactured the buses, which cost the city $1 million each, is currently mired in U.S. bankruptcy proceedings.

Other issues plaguing their use include shorter-than-touted battery life and restrictive cab space for drivers.

"I think the city acquired them in earnest, good intentions to start shifting our fleet to a more environmentally friendly model ... but the bottom line is this particular model, this particular bus does not work well," Steve Bradshaw, the president of the union local that represents city transit drivers, told CTV News Edmonton.

The buses aren't working well due to an inability to secure parts for repairs while operations at California-based Proterra, the manufacturer of the buses, sits idle and unable to supply them after filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection this summer.

In the U.S., Chapter 11 is a form of bankruptcy that allows a business to continue operations while it makes plans with creditors to reorganize its debt to allow it to attain profitability.

"Certainly Proterra has parts, we know that, but the bankruptcy action has caused the doors to be locked, and so these parts aren't flowing," Bradshaw said.

The City of Edmonton, which is one of Proterra's creditors that's seeking an unsecured claim of $8 million in deferred revenue, said in a statement to CTV News it was unable to say how many of the electric buses are operating or under maintenance as those numbers fluctuate.

"A variety of factors" influence how many electric buses are in service, including "regular, ongoing maintenance and supply chain challenges for parts," the city said in the statement, adding it will continue to operate them "with no impacts to service."

According to Bradshaw, 16 of the 60 electric buses in the fleet were available for service on Monday, Nov. 20, "because the others were down waiting for parts or whatever."

Beyond the current inability to acquire parts, however, certain design flaws limit bus operations, Bradshaw said, particularly the configuration of the buses' cabs, which limits who can drive them.

"Anybody who's large or small, they can't drive them properly," Bradshaw said, further describing workers' compensation issues related to ailments such as chronic neck pain. "For larger people, they have to squeeze into a compartment and they can't drive properly or drive safely, smaller people can't reach the pedals. It's just a poorly designed cab. That's a problem for us."

It means only drivers of a certain stature can drive them, he said, while those that can't "have to be accommodated."

"The accommodation means we have to find them a diesel bus to drive because they can't drive (electric ones), so the city and the union have worked very closely to get to a place where we can manage that, but it has caused a disruption in our workplace," he said.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Miriam Valdes-Carletti Top Stories

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