Pollution Probe, in partnership with the Mobility Futures Lab, RFS Energy and Southland Transportation Ltd., has released the results of a unique pilot program demonstrating the use of an electric school bus (ESB) in Calgary, Alberta. The results of the pilot present a first-of-its-kind public release of real-world operational data of using an ESB model through multiple seasons, including some of the coldest weather in Canada.

Although the literature to this point indicates that the total cost of ownership (TCO) for ESBs is currently higher than internal combustion engine (ICE) buses in jurisdictions evaluated, financial incentives can make ESBs financially viable for operators willing to pilot the technology and start training their staff.

Electric vehicle (EV) adoption is crucial for Canada to achieve its net zero greenhouse gas emissions goal by 2050. ESBs present a promising solution to reduce emissions and mitigate health risks associated with diesel exhaust, as up to 90 per cent of Canada’s fleet of 50,000 school buses rely on the fossil fuel, each emitting about 110 tonnes of carbon dioxide over their lifespan.

The TCO of ESBs varies based on the local operational conditions of the bus, which dictate how much energy the bus is consuming, and the local electricity prices, among other factors. ESBs’ energy usage can fluctuate, especially in winter, based on their operating conditions. Moreover, each province’s unique regulatory framework results in varying electricity costs and billing methods. As a result, it is crucial to assess the TCO of ESBs at the local level.

This report offers unique insights into technical requirements, business case considerations, plus other financial, environmental and health implications of ESB use across Canada, including how government subsidies can help make ESB adoption more affordable. Understanding the business case and technical aspects of ESB deployment — including the impact of federal financial incentives — is key to encouraging the adoption of ESBs across Canada, and ensuring a cleaner, brighter future for students and communities.

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“Pollution Probe is pleased to publicly release the results of a first-of-its-kind ESB demonstration in Canada, sharing technical and economic impacts of adopting clean technology in Canada’s school bus fleet,” said Christopher Hilkene, chief executive officer at Pollution Probe. “Through testing an ESB throughout the winter months—and in one of the coldest areas of Canada—we’ve identified important considerations for adoption at scale.”

Electric School Bus Operational Assessment: A Calgary Demonstration Case Study - Pollution Probe


Key report findings and insights

From September 2022 to June 2023, a single Blue Bird ESB was deployed in collaboration with local fleet operator Southland Transportation, conducting 81 runs across three routes in Calgary, Alberta. The demonstration measured energy intensity, vehicle range, and the impact of temperature on ESB use in Canada’s harsh winters. Total cost of ownership (TCO) was also calculated.

Key takeaways include the following:

  • Improvements to driving experience: Certain factors, such as reduced noise and fumes, contribute to a more pleasant driver experience with ESBs.
  • Impact of federal incentives on TCO: In Alberta, an ESB has a 21 per cent cheaper TCO than a diesel school bus with federal incentives. Otherwise, the TCO is 19 per cent higher.
  • Electric school bus range: The range of the ESB on a single charge was up to 213 km based on the 155-kWh Blue Bird school bus battery, depending on the operating conditions. On certain routes, operators may have to send drivers back to the yard in between the morning and afternoon run for charging, contrary to existing practices.
  • Impacts of cold weather: In winter conditions, the use of the bus electrical heating system increases energy intensity by an average of 33 per cent, decreasing vehicle range. Fleet operators should explore bus pre-heating in advance of runs and logistical planning for mid-day charging in between runs to ensure sufficient range capabilities on certain routes.
  • Consideration required for social equity: This report introduces a Social Equity Framework, emphasizing the need to pose equity questions at the outset of ESB projects. Recommendations include collaborating with community organizations to understand existing socioeconomic inequities at a community level, among others.
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Splitting the case study outputs into a business case report, a technical report and a research report, Pollution Probe’s findings from the ESB demonstration provide a picture of the technical and economic considerations of ESB deployment in Calgary. The report also notes that qualitative considerations play a crucial role in shaping the success and acceptance of the transition to ESB use. These include stakeholder engagement, community support and education, organizational change management, buy-in, and employee training.

This project was made possible thanks to funding and support from Alberta Ecotrust Foundation’s Climate Innovation Fund Grant Program and Scotiabank’s Net Zero Research Fund.

The full report is available and recommendations for next steps is available here:


Featured image credit: Alberta School Bus Association.


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