HomeEducationSustainability EducationGCC 3011/5011: Pathways to Renewable EnergyExpansion of Eco-friendly Transit Systems in the Urban Metropolis

Expansion of Eco-friendly Transit Systems in the Urban Metropolis

By: Jack Benson

The metropolises of today are ramping up redevelopment of their transit systems to usher in the future of mass transit. Public transit systems nationwide support on average 10% of all trips committed daily and reduce CO2 emissions simply by taking more vehicles off the road. In its current form, the most lucrative type of public transportation is the diesel-powered bus. For most large cities, a public transportation network of buses is already in service, and arguably is the simplest type of public transportation to modify for future use. While buses play a crucial role in reducing the number of cars on America’s roads, the vast majority are still powered by fossil fuels. Electrification of the workhorse of America’s public transit system may play a pivotal role in the future of the public service.

It is widely understood that global greenhouse gas emissions from transportation contribute to the destabilization of the global climate. Understandably, incremental power generation required for the electrifying the public transit system would still come from power plants, there is still a reduction of nearly 500,000 metric tons of CO2 by just switching from fossil fuels. Other cost savings of electric buses vs. the existing fleet of buses can be found in the difference in the cost of a new electric bus vs. a diesel bus, and the cost of overall operations including fuel and maintenance costs. Comparatively, the cost of either bus can range from roughly $450K to $750K depending on the characteristics of the bus but overall the electric bus will have nearly $520K in savings in maintenance and fuel costs due to not relying on the combustion engine and its fuel.

Upcoming Challenges

Even with benefits such as cleaner air and long-term cost savings, the skepticism and practical hurdles of electric buses in non-temperate climates have slowed the phase out of fossil fuel dependent transit.

Why?

Well… the answer is complicated.

By and large, modern transit networks rely on bus transit as the stiff backbone of their systems. These networks are heavily invested in fossil fuel dependent modes. To shift access to other means of energy appropriation, serious capital funds are required upfront and long term to bring them up to date. Contrary to this, many state legislatures have been doubling down on transit system projects as the nation’s transportation infrastructure is in dire need of reconstruction. Decision-makers can expect the purchase price for electric buses to continue to decline. However, the cost of ongoing operations presents a unique opportunity for adept planners and legislators.

Money Drives Progress

Under current federal transportation policies, the federal government is backing funding on a 9:1 basis, in which many state governments have much more capacity to utilize funds to consider more expensive and greener alternatives. Many metropolitan transit councils throughout the Midwest have slowly been adopting electric buses, or battery-diesel hybrid buses while opting out of purchasing new diesel-powered alternatives while also constructing a support system to backup and service these new vehicles.

By utilizing transit funding keenly, many metropolitan transit councils have been placing investments in transit infrastructure. HOV lanes and “bus only” transit bridges and roadways have been creating alternative avenues for commuters to take to the streets and venture from point A to point B. The strategic use of these transit networks on already gridlocked transportation systems will be a linchpin for future reductions in greenhouse gas emissions throughout the country.

The future is certainly bright for the implementation of electric busing. Less than 10 years ago, the concept of electric busing was only a dream but currently is a reality for many transit riders across the country. 

Edited for spelling, grammar, and clarity

Sources:

“Clean Fuels Grant Program (5308) – Program Overview.” U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Transit Administration. March 16, 2016. Web.

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