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Renewable Energy

U.S. Towns With Electric Public Transportation

A fleet of the most commonly-used, fully electric public bus models are plugged in for recharging // Photo courtesy of Proterra.

Cities and towns across the United States are readily adopting commitments to go carbon neutral in the coming decades. With America’s transportation sector (comprising municipal public transit, interstate transit, freights, and planes) accounting for one-third of all U.S. global warming emissions (according to private sources and EPA publications), localities are going electric and using clean energy to lower their carbon impact. 

From Maine to Michigan, state governments are taking bold initiative in chipping away at the harmful effects of greenhouse gas emissions, slated to cause significant upheaval by 2100. Part of those initiatives includes turning publicly funded transportation electric, either in whole or in part. 

Although critics frequently argue that electric vehicles are not feasible for specific regions in the country, a diverse list of successful geographic regions across the United States with varying climates and densities suggests otherwise. 

The installation of these programs — which can make a marked difference in greenhouse gas emissions and, consequently, global warming — are not without challenges and have seen success only through the meaningful cooperation of local governments and utilities on the ground. 

Despite the journey that can sometimes feel uphill, these towns and cities from the Pacific to the Atlantic and even to the Gulf of Alaska have made them work. 

Photo courtesy of Kishore Narendran

Anchorage, Alaska & Juneau, Alaska 

In 2018, the city of Anchorage put the state’s first electric bus on the road. The Proterra Catalyst E2 model boasted zero emissions and was rolled out for a four-month trial period designed to collect data on the suitability of battery-powered vehicles in some of the harshest winters on earth. One electric bus replacing one diesel bus in the city eliminated 250,000 pounds of carbon each year. 

The pilot program collected meaningful data, contributing to the Anchorage Climate Action plan, which has declared a goal of launching 25,000 electric vehicles projected to drive on Alaskan roads by 2030 across public transportation, law enforcement, and public works sectors. 

Juneau, the capital city of Alaska, has made headlines over the past year for “launching the first fully electric bus owned by a public transit agency in the state,” as Clean Energy: The Business Download reported this May. The project marked a major milestone in electric vehicle investments for the state and set a high bar for other states with extreme winters for alternative energy-powered transportation. 

Photo courtesy of Christopher Ryan

Concord, Massachusetts

In November 2016, Concord, Massachusetts, a small New England town with a track record for sustainability, launched the country’s first electric school bus pilot program. 

According to a 2020 financial report, the state is now deciding whether to expand the program, which is still in operation, to the entire diesel-powered school bus fleet. 

“Concord has committed to reducing community-wide greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by 2050, and that means decarbonizing all sectors as soon as possible,” said Kate Hanley, Director of Sustainability for Concord. 

Photo courtesy of Chris Grafton 

District of Columbia

The nation’s capital rolled out its electric, public bus fleet in May 2018. The D.C. Circulator, a supplementary bus transit system operated by the city’s government and separate from the traditional MetroBus system (and is less than half the cost to ride), boasts three clean energy bus models that are currently in use. In June 2021, the city approved a plan for a fully-electric bus fleet by 2045. 

The poster child for the fleet is the Proterra Catalyst E2, the same model used for the Anchorage pilot program. The bus has an average of 12 years of use, displaces 88,900 gallons of diesel and 244,000 pounds of carbon emissions annually, and provides the city $6 million in cost savings. It costs one dollar per ride and has USB ports and WiFi on each bus. 

The city’s metro trains (subway system) are self-propelled and fully electric, as well. 

Photo courtesy of Gabriel Griego

Albuquerque, New Mexico 

In January 2021, Albuquerque debuted its electric bus fleet to substantially reduce carbon emissions and meet the city’s goal of carbon neutrality by 2030. Mayor Tim Keller launched the program, which is funded by grants issued from the Federal Transit Administration. 

Six buses were released this year, and each has a 175-mile range, even in the extreme desert heat. The city is aiming for five additional buses by the end of 2021. They, too, are using the Proterra Catalyst E2 model. 

Photo courtesy of Oz Seyrek

Columbus, Ohio 

In May of this year, two Ohio transit systems – Columbus and Laketran (east of Cleveland) – rolled out battery-powered buses that boast a 140-mile range per charge “in all weather conditions,” said Jeff Pullin, spokesman for the Central Ohio Transit Authority in Columbus. 

The current goal is to have Columbus’s bus fleet be completely diesel-free by 2025. Pullin says the transit authority recognizes the challenges but is determined to find a solution in an effort to curb pollution and global warming. “We need to make sure that our service isn’t impacted by recharging,” Pullin said to members of the press. “So, this would allow us to run specific surface routes without having to go back and charge, or having to go back and change out the vehicle.”

The electrification of bus fleets for commuters and students alike continues to spread through the nation. Successful launches across the country indicate that despite environmental factors, distances between stops, or population density, cities and towns are able to feasibly go electric. If they do, greenhouse gases’ impact on climate change can be slowed and the damage partially mitigated. 

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