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Transit Administration Awards $1.6B in Electric Bus Grants

Some 150 transit agencies to receive new federal infrastructure funding to purchase zero-emission or low-emission buses, nearly doubling the number of electrified buses on American city streets.

Al electric bus being charged.
The transition to quieter, cleaner buses is beginning, as agencies across the nation receive new levels of infrastructure funding to transition fleets to zero-emission models.

The Federal Transit Administration announced the release of some $1.66 billion in grant funding to 150 transit fleets and facilities to put more than 1,100 new electric buses on roadways.

“This is a huge win for communities of every size and makeup across America,” Mitch Landrieu, White House coordinator of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and a former mayor of New Orleans, told reporters Monday in a press briefing to announce the funding release.

The funding will nearly double the number of electric buses on city streets. Today, there are roughly 1,300 zero-emission buses in operation, out of a nationwide fleet of some 60,000 buses.

“For too long we have had to ride buses that have been pressed into service beyond their useful life,” Nuria Fernandez, FTA administrator, told reporters, praising the move that will inject much needed upgrades into a number of transit fleets.

Not surprisingly, some of the biggest grant awards went to the nation’s top transit organizations. The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) was awarded $116 million to replace 230 old diesel buses with new battery-electric models, a move that will electrify 4 percent of the agency’s bus fleet. Similarly, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LA Metro), was awarded $104.1 million to acquire about 160 new battery-electric buses and charging equipment. The new units will replace compressed natural gas models.

Even small agencies like the Missoula Urban Transportation District, known as the Mountain Line, serving rural Montana, will replace aging diesel buses with battery-electric models, along with charging equipment. The Mountain Line has a goal of transitioning the entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2035, said Landrieu. The grant allows the agency to reach 90 percent of this goal.

“Each of these projects has a few key qualities in common. They are going to make our families safer, our air cleaner, our communities more connected. And they’re going to lower prices across the board,” said Landrieu.

The funding is not only intended to buy electric buses, but also grow training so that transit agencies can adequately manage and service the new vehicles. The Iowa Department of Transportation will invest in battery-electric buses, as well as new transit facilities and workforce development.

“There is a lot of competition for good labor, because the economy is so strong,” said Fernandez.

The funding is being managed by the FTA’s Low or No Emission (Lo-No) grant program, which requires the purchase of U.S.-made buses.

“That means that American workers will be using American technology for cleaner air, cleaner water,” said Fernandez.

The new infrastructure law provides this program with $5.5 billion in funding in the next five years, a more than sixfold increase. Some of the grant funding is also being funneled through the FTA’s Buses and Bus Facilities program. The infrastructure law is providing nearly $2 billion into this program over the next five years.

“We know the bus is an equalizer. It allows everyone in our country to live their lives and go wherever they need to go. With this funding, more of them than ever will have that opportunity,” said Fernandez.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.