Friday, December 5, 2014

Another fleet sunk

When financial people mention "sunk costs," they refer to expenditures that cannot be recovered. Almost 15 years ago, BC politicians learned the investment of hundreds of millions for fast ferries had to be reclassified. If the PacifiCats had not themselves sunk, their costs had. That outcome provided a field day for government's political opposition and their media allies.

BC is soon to finalize another 9-figure financial disaster involving a transportation fleet and it also was a pet project of an overenthusiastic Premier. There is a difference though; the bus fiasco has attracted little attention from BC's political reporters and commentators. Having written an excellent article a year ago, Brian Hutchinson of the National Post is an exception.

Prior to the 2010 Olympics, Gordon Campbell decreed the "hydrogen highway" would become a reality. With support from his Californian pal, The Governator, Campbell imagined the alternative fuel route would extend from Whistler to San Diego by 2010. His government issued a press release celebrating "the arrival of the first bus of what will become the world’s largest single hydrogen fuel cell bus fleet today." It went on:
The arrival of 'Bus 1' of the hydrogen fuel cell bus is a major step forward as we work to build a Hydrogen Highway that stretches from Whistler to Victoria and beyond,” said Premier Campbell. "This fleet will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 1,800 tonnes per year in B.C. and it will showcase British Columbia’s expertise in cutting-edge hydrogen and fuel cell technology to the world.
If those words sound familiar, it is because the NDP had a similar idea that building aluminum ferries in BC would showcase the province's cutting edge skills in high speed ship construction.

Today, the 20 hydrogen fuelled buses are in storage while BC Transit searches for buyers. These units reportedly cost four times as much as diesel buses but capital costs accounted for less than half the program budget. Operating expenses were unusually high, partly because hydrogen had to be trucked in from Quebec. Repair costs were substantial compared to standard buses because vehicles were not suited to the conditions.

Hutchinson quoted Ben Williams, president of Unifor Local 333.
“The hydrogen buses don’t run properly in the cold Whistler environment,” he said Tuesday. “You’d think someone would have considered that, before any cash was spent.”
Yes, you'd think that but spending other people's money is just so damn easy when it's for the boss's flavour of the day.


There have been a stream of "ticking bombs" crossing Canada in the form of diesel trucks carrying hydrogen to fuel the Whistler bus fleet. Was truck operation safe and free of fatalities? Were GHG emissions from production and transport of the clean fuel higher or lower than what a battery equipped hybrid fleet might have created while it shuttled around Whistler?

At least the fast ferry project aimed at creation of jobs and skills in British Columbia.

The decision to end the hydrogen project does not please everyone. Former BC Transit Chair Eric Denhoff complains, saying the buses should remain as a demonstration project, "Even if there was a bit of additional cost to running these things.” (CBC quotes Ballard Power as saying the per kilometre cost of hydrogen bus operations is double that of diesel.) Denhoff denies this was a failed experiment and maybe he’s right.

Denhoff knows about Skytrain and Canada Line from his days as an SNC Lavalin official. Those have served as demonstration projects for the world, demonstrating how not to build mass transit systems. Sure enough, just about everyone everywhere did something completely different.

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  1. Brian Hutchinson's article:

    And lets not forget the $200 million and mounting Compass Card fiasco.

  2. New Era of public transit arrives in British Columbia

    "Jan. 22, 2010" "The world's largest fleet of hydrogen fuel cell buses is now in operation ... Whistler, B.C."

    Alternate Titles: Includes Backgrounder: the Hydrogen Fuel Cell Bus Demonstration Project (p. 3.)

  3. Instead of having the movers and shakers on the Hydrogen Fuel Cell bus project squirreled away in a PDF File here is the seed and nuts of the idea:

    The Honourable Stockwell Day, President of the Treasury Board and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, BC Transportation and Infrastructure Minister Shirley Bond, West Vancouver-Sea To Sky MLA Joan McIntyre and Resort Municipality of Whistler Mayor Ken Melamed welcomed the buses into service while officially opening BC Transit’s new Whistler Transit Centre, which includes the world’s largest hydrogen vehicle fuelling station.

    “Under the leadership of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, our Government is investing in projects that create a stronger economy and a healthier environment,” said Minister Day. “The opening of this Hydrogen Bus Maintenance Facility demonstrates how our Government is working together with partners to get shovels in the ground and deliver real results to the people of British Columbia.”

    The bus fleet is on the chopping block, just like the Fast Cats, what about the Maintenance Facility will it 'win' a billion dollar contract like the Washington Group's shipyard?

  4. It's the NDP's fault- Repeat......

  5. The problem with them buses is that having hydrogen on board is too much of a ticking bomb. To do this right you could use combustion engine but instead of gasoline you would have water. Water could be broken down into hydrogen and oxygen through process called electrolysis, using juice from the battery pack vehicle would have to carry, and than used the way regular gas is used. Guy by the name Garrett made such a modification in thirties and he could run this as long as he had juice in the batteries. Another way would be that of Stan Mayer's, where he had water broken down inside engine chamber. In 1989 his modified Volkswagen Beetle went from New York to LA on 83 liters of water.

    1. oh gawd are you serious? what you are suggesting is a perpetual motion machine. IT DOESN'T WORK. you cannot create energy for free. the 'juice in the batteries', as you call it, would only provide the energy to electrolyze a FRACTION of the water necessary to move the car. doing it the 'right way' - as you say - by burning it in combustion, loses most of the energy in the form of heat. the fuel cell, which combines hydrogen and oxygen in a controlled fashion, produces very little heat, and therefore is far more efficient. what you are suggesting is akin to using falling water to power a device and then also use it to power a pump back up again to regain the falling water. like the Liberals books, it doesn't add up.

      The BIGGEST problem with hydrogen fuel cells is it adds an unnecessary step in the energy chain by having to use electricity to electrolyze water. A far better option is to simply use that electricity to charge the batteries of an electric car.

    2. So if we put poles on the hybrid buses, then we could run them on the trolleybus wires in Vancouver, making hydrogen on the way to fill up the tanks, then run them off the wires to complete their trips to useful destinations?

      The press will always dig up the Fast Ferries very time it wants to slag off the NDP. But it never wants to slag off the BC Liberals so they get away with the Vancouver Convention Centre, the BC Place Roof, the casino - and I haven't even left town yet!

  6. The biggest criminal thing about the fast cats was the Liberals selling them for less then scrap value for purely political reasons, it would be interesting to find out how much profit the Washington Group made off the resale of the fast cats.

  7. The hydrogen fuel cell technology has proven successful in the military as they are being used in submarines, enabling them to stay submerged for as long a three weeks, rivaling the capabilities of nuclear subs. Maybe we should put periscopes on the damned buses and use them as subs. maybe better than the decrepit beasts the Canadian navy bought from the Brits.



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