An electric bus from the Waterloo Region is parked on a street.


Waterloo Region’s first electric bus was road-tested after its reveal to the public at Grand River Transit’s Northfield Drive Maintenance Facility on Jan. 26. The bus, decorated in green leaves and the familiar GRT logo, features the line, “Hi, I’m electric,” on both sides.  

This bus is the first in a pilot project of 11 new, 40-foot electric buses that will service Waterloo Region over the next two years. The pilot project will assess factors such as their range (how far the buses can travel on a single charge)—and their reliability—(how well the buses carry passengers every day). GRT will also conduct rider surveys to gather feedback from passengers on their experience using these new electric buses.  

The federal and provincial governments, as well as the Regional Municipality of Waterloo, invested a total of $15.1 million into the project. Investments into sustainable transportation like this will serve to help the Region of Waterloo meet its target of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent by 2050 (compared to 2010 levels).   

Compared to regular diesel buses, electric buses produce zero emissions and are an “exciting step forward in [our] plans to transition to a more resilient, low-carbon community,” said Karen Redman, Regional Chair of the Regional Municipality of Waterloo.   

Investing in zero-emissions public transit will reduce polluting emissions by getting cars off the road. In 2020, Grand River Transit committed to phasing out diesel-only buses by only purchasing new hybrid or electric buses.    

Electric buses run by relying on batteries, usually lithium-ion batteries, that store the energy that is needed to power the bus along its route. Once the battery runs out, it can be recharged at a charging station. Grand River Transit’s Northfield Drive Maintenance Facility houses twelve chargers that can recharge batteries to their full capacity within four hours. Unlike traditional diesel buses, electric buses do not rely on internal combustion, so they do not produce any polluting emissions.   

Electric buses also tend to perform better in cold weather compared to diesel buses, which are more difficult to start in the winter, meaning many are left to idle overnight so they don’t encounter problems with starting up in the morning.  

According to a new report by Environmental Defence investing in public transit is good for the planet and also brings a variety of economic benefits. The report mentions a 2018 Ontario Ministry of Infrastructure study that sought to find which infrastructure investments produced the best return- on -investment. Public transit placed number one, as having “the most significant return- on-i nvestment” compared to other infrastructure investments. In fact, investments into car-centric infrastructure like highways “actually shrank the economy,” according to the study.