Charging Forward: Reed Rolls Out $73B Initiative to Transform America’s Public Transit Network & Transition Much of RIPTA’s Bus Fleet to Zero-Emission Vehicles
Sen. Reed, a national leader on mass-transit funding, seeks to triple the $25B that Biden’s infrastructure-focused American Jobs Plan would designate for zero-emissions buses
PROVIDENCE, RI -- U.S. Senator Jack Reed wants more all-electric buses rolling off American assembly lines and quietly zipping along the streets of Rhode Island and all fifty states. Senator Reed says upgrading the nation’s bus fleet offers a chance to address climate change and reduce pollution while boosting the U.S. economy, creating good-paying jobs, and helping American consumers, taxpayers, and workers, including those who manufacture, operate, and maintain the new electric buses.
In an effort to strengthen public transportation and reduce pollution, Senator Reed is pushing a new plan to help the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority (RIPTA) and transit agencies nationwide purchase new all-electric buses and associated infrastructure.
Today, Senator Reed rolled out a bold new proposal known as the Clean Transit for America Plan, to dedicate $73 billion to electrify the nation’s 70,000 transit buses as part of a push to move the U.S. mass-transit network toward zero-emissions. This plan will help improve the health of all Americans by removing pollutants from our environment, making critical investments in clean energy technology, generating good-paying American jobs, equipping our nation with 21st century infrastructure, and setting the nation on a path to stronger and more sustainable economic growth.
“America must move toward a cleaner energy future and this plan will help us charge forward. The Clean Transit for America Plan is a smart investment that will enhance our economy, the environment, and public health. It will help the nation meet its energy and climate goals. And it will help RIPTA and transit agencies nationwide curb pollution, accelerate the transition to a greener fleet, and reduce fuel and maintenance costs. I applaud RIPTA’s sustainability goals as it continues to develop new and innovative ways to provide safe, clean, flexible transportation opportunities to all Rhode Islanders. But transit agencies can’t do this alone. The federal government has a responsibility to act on climate now, help create good-paying jobs, and invest in our future,” said Senator Reed, who serves on the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee, which authorizes federal funds for mass-transit and is also on the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and Related Agencies (THUD), which appropriates federal funding for mass-transit.
Currently, only about two per cent of the nation’s public transit buses are zero-emission vehicles. According to recent data, the average cost of a battery electric bus is between $850,000 and $900,000, and hydrogen fuel cell buses average $1 million per bus or more. Zero emissions vehicles will be cheaper to operate and maintain once deployed, helping agencies provide more frequent, high-quality transit services, but the upfront cost of zero-emission vehicles and charging infrastructure are an obstacle to adoption. Significantly increasing the size of orders for zero-emissions buses will lead to major reductions in prices.
A national leader on public transportation issues, Senator Reed successfully led a bipartisan effort to add $125 million to the Low-No Emissions Bus Grant Program, the Low-No Program, which provides transit agencies funding to buy low-emission buses and charging facilities. As a result of Reed’s efforts, RIPTA was awarded a $5 million federal grant last year to help purchase over a dozen new battery-electric buses. This funding built off a $1.5 million federal grant Reed helped secure in 2018 to purchase three electric buses and associated infrastructure.
RIPTA has already leveraged these federal grants, along with a portion of the $14.4 million Rhode Island received in 2017 from the Volkswagen (VW) emissions settlement to lease three 40-foot Proterra Catalyst® E2 electric buses. The initial lease allowed RIPTA to extensively test the new buses and effectively gauge training, maintenance, and charging times and costs. As a result, RIPTA plans to acquire 14 new electric buses to add to its fleet and replace older diesel buses.
The Clean Transit for America Plan would provide federal funds for the procurement and deployment of zero-emission buses and related infrastructure, including charging stations.
RIPTA currently operates a fleet of nearly 250 fixed route vehicles, including 75 hybrid vehicles, and provided approximately 16 million annual passenger trips on its fixed-route service before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“On the very important topic of climate change, transit plays a key role in Rhode Island’s strategy to address this crisis which affects us all,” said Greg Nordin, RIPTA’s Chief of Strategic Advancement. “Transitioning buses away from fossil fuels to new zero-emission vehicles is a key step, and we need clear national vision and federal support as outlined by Senator Reed. We are grateful for his foresight and advocacy. We could not do this alone.”
We also know that without a clear national vision and federal support, this would be very difficult for transit agencies to achieve individually.
In addition to addressing climate change and improving local air quality with zero-emission fleets, the Clean Transit for America Plan would also contain ‘Buy American’ provisions, establish a $60 million workforce training program, and includes $500 million to help transit agencies retrain workers.
The Proterra buses are engineered and manufactured in America.
The transportation sector is the nation’s largest producer of greenhouse gas emissions and was responsible for about 29 percent of emissions in 2019, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Grow Smart Rhode Island’s executive director Scott Wolf stated: “Senator Reed's Clean Transit for America Plan will provide a major boost to our state's overall environmental and economic well-being and to the air quality of our state's neighborhoods, especially those economically disadvantaged neighborhoods that comprise many of RIPTA’s most heavily used routes. By linking this visionary plan with anticipated major new federal transit funding opportunities and the bold transit enhancement proposals within the recently adopted Long Range State Transit Master Plan, Rhode Island can make its public transportation system much more user friendly, and impactful as a tool for fighting climate change, expanding economic and housing opportunities and improving public health.”
In addition to offering a quieter commute with decreased emissions, the new buses come standard with technology upgrades, such as Wi-Fi and GPS apps, allowing riders to see where the bus is on its route, and the electric buses have outlets on the back of every seat for riders to charge their devices.
According to a study from the Center for Transportation and the Environment (CTE), it is estimated that the cost to transition to an all zero-emissions bus fleet by 2035—including related infrastructure and administrative costs—is between $56 and $89 billion.