Pollution and Public Transit

Getting on board with zero-emission buses

Public transit operators in the United States are beginning to transition to zero-emission buses. The goal is to improve air quality, support clean energy technologies, and spur changes toward sustainability for the broader heavy-duty fleet.

A Bloomberg story from 2019 notes that there are hundreds of thousands of electric buses on the road worldwide. Why aren’t they on your route yet? According to BloombergNEF, “Out of almost 425,000 e-buses worldwide at the end of last year, some 421,000 were in China.”

Although the United States lacks a central mandate for zero-emission buses, policy decisions in California, Oregon, and other states will result in thousands of new electric buses serving local routes.

“The strongest hope for the U.S. to catch up to China in e-buses comes from its strength in technology,” the Bloomberg article noted. “North America is already home to multiple electric-bus manufacturers focused on winning domestic orders. By the time electric buses reach cost competitiveness, these companies could have an edge of their own. The e-bus race won’t be settled on scale alone.”

In California, the “Innovative Clean Transit” regulation will require public transit agencies to gradually transition from traditional fuels to a 100 percent zero-emission bus fleet.

About 12,000 buses are in operation around the state, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) said. Public transit agencies are now preparing roll-out plans with timetables for purchasing the buses and developing infrastructure to serve the fleets. Large agencies are submitting plans this year, while smaller agencies have until 2023 to prepare their Zero-Emission Transition Plans.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) is planning to phase out diesel and natural gas buses in favor of zero-emission buses like the one pictured (Source: CARB)

“The transportation sector is responsible for about 40 percent of GHG emissions, 80 percent of NOx emissions, and 90 percent of diesel particulate matter emissions in California,” the Air Resources Board said. “The Innovative Clean Transit (ICT) regulation is a critical first step in transitioning California’s heavy-duty fleet to zero-emission.”

In Oregon, the state’s largest transit provider, TriMet, has committed to a non-diesel bus fleet by 2040. TriMet also announced that its all-electric buses would be powered by 100 percent wind energy (not by windmills atop the buses, but through Portland General Electric’s Clean Wind program).

New rules and pending legislation in Maryland, Massachusetts, and New Jersey would also set requirements for zero-emission buses. Those measures are described in a recent article by Amanda Myers of Energy Innovation: Policy and Technology on Forbes.com. The article tracks how states on the East Coast are following California’s playbook for supporting clean energy and reducing emissions.

Legislation in Maryland, for example, would require the bus fleet to reach 50 percent zero-emissions by 2030.

The New Jersey Transit Corporation will also scale up its purchase of zero emission vehicles, with requirements for 10 percent by December 31, 2024 and 50 percent by December 31, 2026. By the end of 2032, all new bus purchases will be zero-emission vehicles.

Over the next decade Maryland will see half their bus fleet replaced.

IMS is covering for its clients a range of bus roll-out plans, transition plans, route modeling, and infrastructure analyses for zero-emission bus programs. IMS provides its architectural/engineering/consulting clients with daily leads from RFPs/Qs and Advance Notices of upcoming projects.

Some recent public sector projects IMS covered for its clients include:

* In Kern County, Calif, the Golden Empire Transit District released an RFQ in February 2020 to develop a Zero-Emission Bus Transitioning Plan in compliance with the CARB’s ICT Regulation (IMS 501112).

* The Rhode Island Public Transit Authority issued an RFP in January 2020 for a feasibility study to evaluate the electrical infrastructure to support 17 electric buses (IMS 497230).

* The Northern Arizona Intergovernmental Public Transportation Authority (Mountain Line) released an RFP in October 2019 to create a Zero Emissions Bus Transition Plan. Required work included identifying the best charging infrastructure and development of a facility infrastructure plan. (IMS 488471)

* In Washington State, King County released an RFP in September 2019 for the development of a strategic roadmap for transitioning its non-bus fleets to zero-emissions (IMS 484052).

A transition to electric buses powered in part by wind turbine farms strengthens the commitment by many states and transit agencies around the country to move towards zero emissions. (Source: Matt Sylvester)

The Los Angeles Daily news recently reported that the City’s Department of Transportation would purchase 155 zero-emission buses, with deliveries coming during the next two years.  City officials in the article said the orders are the largest purchase of zero-emission buses in U.S. history.

“‘The clean transportation revolution is not a distant dream, it’s happening on Los Angeles’ streets right now,’” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in the article. “‘Seeing these zero-emission buses rolling down our roads in the years ahead will bring us one step closer to realizing our vision of cleaner air, lower emissions, healthier communities and a more sustainable future for all Angelenos.’”

The transition to zero-emission buses is another intersection where transportation and energy policies converge. A case in point is the RFP issued in April 2020 by the State of Rhode Island’s Department of Environmental Management (IMS 512244). The agency is seeking to develop a plan to improve mobility for residents while enhancing environmental equity and reducing carbon emissions.

According to the RFP: “Improving access to clean and sustainable mobility options provides myriad benefits, including increasing the resiliency of Rhode Island infrastructure and communities, improving public health, contributing to job creation and reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector that contribute to global warming.”

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