Traditionally, when people think about Earth Day the first image that comes to mind is planting a tree. Thanks to the growing awareness around the rising impacts of climate change, its worsening effects on our daily lives, and the future of our planet, the day dedicated to demonstrating support for environmental protection is evolving.
The main reason I joined a transit-focused company was to help make an impact on an industry that reduces carbon emissions everyday in cities around the U.S. In 2016, transportation became the No. 1 source of carbon emissions in the U.S. overtaking the electricity sector, which had seen decreases due to a transition to cleaner alternatives and energy efficiency. Therefore, public transit is going to play a critical role moving forward as both U.S. and global leaders search for solutions to solve this issue.
According to an analysis by APTA, private vehicles account for 55 percent of a household’s carbon footprint. Meaning a single household can eliminate a large portion of their footprint by trading in one vehicle for the routine use of public transit.
The environmental benefit of public transit is also growing exponentially due to the adoption of electric buses. Transit agencies around the U.S. are seeing both environmental and economic benefits of electric buses. “Eco” now insinuates both “eco-friendly” and “eco”-nomic value.
Clemson Area Transit (CATbus), a long-time partner of TransLoc, was an early adopter of the electric bus with their innovative project in Seneca, South Carolina. I spoke with Keith Moody, General Manager of CATbus, about his experience with the electrification project that involved the electric bus manufacturer Proterra. Seneca was the first city in the U.S. to acquire an exclusively electric bus fleet by applying for FTA grants through the Low or No Emission Vehicles Program (or better known in the industry as Low-No grants).
Moody highlighted how quickly technology is advancing each year. Since the Seneca project was launched four years ago, the mile range for electric buses has risen from 30 miles per charge to 150 miles per charge. And this number continues to grow. He believes the magic number for electric bus range is 300 miles per charge, which would present an indisputable argument to every agency to purchase electric buses to fulfill nearly all of their transit scenarios.
Yet today, Moody already believes it’s a no-brainer for transit agencies. Although the upfront costs are higher for electric buses, the lifetime costs are lower due to decreased maintenance and fuel costs. For example, brake pads on a diesel bus will last for 30,000-40,000 miles, while pads on an electric buses can potentially last 200,000 miles.
Because of his early experience with electric buses, Moody has spoken at numerous conferences. He recalls partaking in a roundtable discussion alongside a transit veteran, who was a die-hard diesel bus fan. By the end of the discussion the electric skeptic said, “I’ve got to switch to electric buses.” Moody notes that once agencies see the numbers, “it’s a game changer.”
Moody is most excited about potential breakthroughs in battery technology. He referenced Dr. Goodenough’s innovation in solid-state technology, which could potentially double or triple the battery range. Moody said, “We’re right on the verge of the swing of the pendulum.”
The sources of power for these electric buses are also getting cleaner around the country. States have either passed or are introducing bills to achieve 50-100 percent of their electricity from carbon-free sources:
- Hawaii has a target of 100 percent renewable energy by 2045
- California passed legislation (2018) for 100 percent clean energy by 2045
- New Mexico passed legislation (2019) for 100 percent clean energy by 2045
- Maryland passed legislation (2019) for 50 percent renewable energy by 2030
- Washington introduced a bill (2019) to be 100 percent clean energy by 2045
- Illinois has introduced a bill (2019) to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2050
For decades transit has played a major role in removing carbon-intensive cars from the road, and moving forward transit will continue to play a significant role by electrifying their fleets. The future is promising for transit’s impact on reducing carbon emissions. Next month, CATbus has their ribbon-cutting ceremony to celebrate a 50 percent electric fleet milestone, which includes their previously-mentioned Seneca service region. LA Metro announced their plan last year to have an entire zero-emission bus fleet (2,240 buses!) by 2030. Shortly after, New York City announced a conversion to a 100 percent electric fleet (5,700 buses!) by 2040. This is a trend the industry will continue to see in the coming years.
Public transit has played and will continue to play a major role in addressing climate change. Thank you to all of the transit agencies taking cars off of the road and leading the broader transportation industry towards adopting clean innovation. The planet thanks you as well!
Want to personally advocate for public transit and help others cut their carbon footprint? Get involved with APTA’s #GetOnBoardDay initiative on April 25 by sharing your transit story, as well as signing the petition at https://getonboardday.org/.
Interested in learning more about the electrification of public transit? Our microtransit partner SacRT is implementing electric vehicles for their on-demand service in the suburbs of Sacramento. You can read more about it here.
Stuart Powell is author of Ecoshot: How America Can Win the Clean Industrial Revolution Against China. He also serves as a TransLoc Business Development Associate.