Toronto City Airport ferry to be retrofitted to all-electric operation

Written by Nick Blenkey
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The 90 second ferry ride to and from Billy Bishop Airport is one of the shortest in the world at just 121 meters

PortsToronto, owner and operator of Billy Bishop Toronto City Airport, reports that the airport’s Marilyn Bell I passenger/vehicle ferry will be converted to electric-power.

The vessel will be the first 100 percent electric lithium-ion powered ferry in service in Canada. PortsToronto anticipates that the retrofit will be complete by the end of 2020.

The ferry is an obvious candidate for this type of retrofit. The 90 second ferry ride to and from Billy Bishop Airport is one of the shortest in the world at just 121 meters. However, though the trip is short, service is frequent: there is a ferry approximately every 15 minutes. The first ferry to the airport leaves the ferry terminal at 5:15 a.m. ET and the last ferry from the airport to the mainland departs at about 12:07 a.m. ET.

The vessel’s propulsion system will be entirely powered by battery and fueled by 100 per cent renewable electricity supplied by Bullfrog Power, enabling the electric ferry to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from the airport’s ferry operation. In addition to operating more efficiently and eliminating related air emissions, the retrofitted vessel will build on the airport’s Noise Management Program, as it will operate far more quietly, dramatically reducing related noise in the surrounding community.

As part of PortsToronto’s sustainability program, a phased approach to greening the airport’s ferry operations began in 2018 when the Marilyn Bell I was converted from diesel to bio-fuel, which resulted in the reduction of approximately 20 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions last year. The electric-powered ferry is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with ferry operations by 530 tonnes, dramatically reducing the airport’s carbon footprint and setting the organization on a clear path toward achieving PortsToronto’s overall emissions target.

“Converting the Billy Bishop Airport ferry to electric power is a clear indication of how serious we are in our commitment to the environment and maintaining balanced operations with the waterfront community in which we operate,” said Geoffrey Wilson, Chief Executive Officer, PortsToronto. “We are proud to invest in leading-edge, sustainable transportation infrastructure that will reduce PortsToronto’s overall emissions, which is a significant step toward our organization’s environmental objectives and in support of the Canadian Government’s 2030 emission reduction target.”

Three Canadian companies have been selected to collaborate on completing the ferry retrofit. As developer of the winning concept and proposal, St. Catharines-based marine electrical engineering specialist Canal Marine & Industrial Inc. (CANAL) is the prime designer for the project, while the project naval architect is Concept Naval. Another naval architect and marine engineering firm, Bedford, Nova Scotia, based E.Y.E marine consultants will assist with project implementation.

The airport’s ferry operation not only transports passengers, airport staff and essential supplies to and from Billy Bishop Airport, but serves as a vital link for City of Toronto service vehicles to gain access to the Toronto Islands.

The conversion of the airport ferry to electric-power is one of Billy Bishop Airport’s key capital projects and will cost approximately C$2.9 million. This cost will be paid in full by PortsToronto through the Airport Improvement Fee.

PortsToronto is a Canadian federal business enterprise that is financially self-sufficient and does not receive funding from any level of government.

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