Gone are the days when local governments and local companies were forced into doing business with each other, never mind demanding a hometown discount.

But one of the undeniable and increasingly embarrassing scenarios in Winnipeg is the fact that it is the headquarters of the largest bus manufacturer in North America — and more to the point in this case, the largest manufacturer of zero-emission buses — and this city’s transit authority has not jumped on board this green energy no-brainer.

Clean Energy Canada, a Simon Fraser University climate and clean-energy think tank, published a report this week called Will Canada Miss the Bus?, which underlines the unfortunate dynamic that has emerged across Canada, a country that is a leader in electric bus manufacturing but is slow to adapt the technology.

Battery electric and the even-newer fuel-cell electric buses are gaining all sorts of market traction around the world, with an increasing number of cities in North America committing to targeted dates when their transit fleets will be 100 per cent zero-emission.

Although it doesn’t seem that long ago when battery electric buses were a bit of a novelty, that is no longer the case.

The report points out global sales of zero-emission buses (ZEBs) were up 40 per cent between 2016 and 2017 and commuters around the world are travelling on 365,000 of them today.

The casual North American traveller might be shocked that the number is so high and that would be understandable because almost all of them — 99 per cent — are in China. The city of Shenzhen alone has 16,000 of them.

New Flyer Industries, the aforementioned largest bus manufacturer on this continent based here in Winnipeg, booked 406 firm and option orders for ZEBs in 2017, representing 47 per cent of the market in all of Canada and the U.S.

Canada’s transportation sector produces 25 per cent of its greenhouse-gas emissions. For every 1,000 electric buses introduced, global demand for fuel drops by over 180,000 barrels annually. These statistics make it clear why there ought to be a more urgent uptake of electric buses in North America.

In an interview with the Free Press, Merran Smith, executive director of Clean Energy Canada, said, "Shenzhen runs 99.5 per cent zero-emission buses. If they can do it, why can’t Canada?"

Well, for one thing, public policy is not done by edict from on high in Canada. But the point is, there are increasingly fewer reasons to argue against it.

The report references a Bloomberg study that says price parity between diesel buses and ZEB will be reached by 2030.

Smith said transit authorities can already achieve operational savings of between $85,000 and $290,000 over the 12-to-20-year lifespan of a bus.

"In Edmonton, they found it was 40 to 44 per cent cheaper to operate electric rather than diesel buses," she said.

The report highlights what a few cities are doing, including Montreal, which is committing to buying only hybrid or electric buses between now and 2025 and going 100 per cent electric after 2040. Toronto has targeted to have its fleet 100 per cent zero-emission by 2042. Edmonton is aiming at having 25 overnight-charging buses by 2020, and Vancouver has a goal of powering its entire fleet with renewable energy by 2050.

Smith understands that transit authority management has to face all sorts of year-to-year challenges and that they need some leadership from federal and provincial governments to support accelerated adoption of electric buses.

But it’s also clear that average Canadians want action to be taken. Clean Energy Canada recently did a survey that suggested a clear majority of Canadians — 70 per cent — believe electric cars should become the majority of cars on the road.

Smith said it’s not so outrageous to suggest that government leadership could come in the form of incentives.

What we saw this week in the federal budget was $2.2 billion for infrastructure funding," she said. "We want to see some of that targeted specifically for transit, to be combined with targets to get to 100 (per cent) zero-emission bus fleets, and to target some of those infrastructure dollars to go to support municipalities to purchase zero-emission buses.

Meanwhile, back in Winnipeg, where New Flyer conducted a four-bus pilot project in 2014 complete with charging stations, momentum seems to have fizzled out.

In January, Winnipeg’s public works committee said it will study how best to convert the Winnipeg Transit fleet to electric and is figuring out the cost of buying 12 to 20 electric buses, with no timetable in place.

Smith said, "The solutions are ready for prime time. You have one of the prominent North American electric bus manufacturers in your city. It would be great for Winnipeg to showcase its hometown buses."

Tell us about it.