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A new report from the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE) reportedly found that the U.S. transit bus fleet could transition to zero-emission vehicles would be possible by 2035 with “robust federal support.” The agency estimates the cost anywhere between $56.22 billion and $88.91 billion to make this possible.
A combination of battery-electric vehicles and fuel cell vehicles will be needed to meet the transition target, accounting for vehicles used for service by transit agencies of all sizes, according to the report. In both the low and high costs scenarios, the vehicles themselves account for between 51 and 59% of the costs, followed by infrastructure, technical assistance and Federal Transit Administration innovation, and bus testing costs.
The report included “robust federal support for research, development and component testing” as part of the cost assessment. It also noted several policy areas where zero-emission fleet transition could be supported through actions at the Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Transportation, U.S. Department of Energy, and Internal Revenue Service.
Dan Raudebaugh, executive director of CTE, reportedly said electrifying the U.S. transit system had to be done the right way. “Transit agencies need more than vehicles to successfully make this transition, and the federal government is well-positioned to provide that much-needed support,” he said.
The actual vehicles account for most of the cost in the scenarios, but CTE also noted two other areas that would be central to successfully transitioning the U.S. transit fleet to zero emissions: Technology development and workforce development. The agency pointed out that the federal government has been a leader in technology development, but noted “very little of its current funding supports vehicle technology development or [zero-emission buses] specifically.”
Zero-emission vehicles have different operational characteristics than conventionally fueled vehicles, which will propel a need for new workforce development requirements. The report stated that sustained workforce development will need to be in place for transit operators, technicians, engineers, and planners as fleets evolve.
CTE produced the report at the request of U.S. Senators Charles Schumer (D-NY) and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). They both introduced their Clean Transit for America Plan recently, which would provide $73 billion for the deployment of zero-emission buses by increasing funding for FTA’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program. The proposal also calls for $60 million for a joint labor-management zero-emission workforce training consortium, as well as $500 million in FTA-administered funds to agencies to help with re-training.
The senators’ proposal increases the focus on the transit industry’s transition to zero-emission vehicles included in President Joe Biden’s American Jobs Plan, which calls for $25 billion to help transit agencies transition their fleets. However, the electrification of cars alone won’t suffice to help the U.S. meet its climate goals. In fact, transportation contributes the largest share of carbon emissions in the country, and electrification is a critical requisite to a carbon-free future — but not the sole remedy. In order to achieve climate targets, the U.S. must significantly reduce its use of cars altogether. The electrification of public transit, however, can alleviate our car-dependency.
“Americans deserve world-class public transportation that is delivered with modern, zero-emission buses built by American workers. Addressing climate change and reducing pollution is an opportunity to invest in American workers,” Sen. Brown reportedly said.