Trenton – Transitioning to a fully electric bus fleet will not only reduce greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey, but also result in significant savings for the state, according to a webinar by Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center and New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). Electric buses require less maintenance and fuel, which should help offset the cost of purchasing new, zero-emission buses and batteries.
“The future is now for NJ Transit to ramp up the electrification of their bus fleet over the next three years and the next decade,” said Hayley Berliner, Clean Energy Associate at Environment New Jersey. “We need to move towards transitioning away from dirty diesel buses, especially in our cities that pollute our air, lungs, and climate. NJ Transit is behind other major transit agencies in the transition to electrification.”
The webinar, Electrifying NJ Transit’s Bus Fleet, outlined NJ Transit’s transition to electric buses, laying out the environmental benefits, cost reductions, and public health improvements of this transition. The transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions (42 percent) in New Jersey. Pollution from diesel buses primarily harms people of color, who are much more likely to use public transportation and live in communities where buses run and idle. Particulate matter (PM2.5) from roads alone causes up to 2,420 premature deaths every year in New Jersey.
“A couple years ago the economics of bus electrification were obscure, but now the Transportation sector is at an inflection point as the premium purchase price of EVs decrease and the economic benefits of electrification are now clear,” said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg. “NJ Transit needs to make the right economic choice by investing and transitioning towards renewable energy. To do otherwise would be a bad economic decision for the State, transit riders, and for the health of our community.”
Electric buses are more cost-efficient than diesel buses, both in regards to maintenance and fuel costs. NJPP’s report finds that NJ Transit could save $213.7 million, or $81,500 per bus, from reduced maintenance on electric buses and $44.5 million per year on fuel with an electric bus fleet. The webinar addressed specific state and federal government transit funding sources that exist that can help offset the higher upfront cost of electric bus adoption and charging infrastructure. The webinar also dove deeper into NJ Transit’s long-term funding deficit and needs and how that relates to its transition to electric buses.
“NJ Transit provides a critical service to get people to work, to doctor’s appointments, and more, but they are the only transit agency in the country that does not have a dedicated source of funding. They cannot engage in the necessary long-term planning needed for a transition to an electric bus fleet without this,” said Janna Chernetz, Deputy Director and Director of New Jersey Policy at Tri-State Transportation Campaign. This year, there is the potential to secure the first dedicated source of funding for NJ Transit from the NJ Turnpike Authority toll revenue, which would allow NJ Transit to do more than just keep the lights on.”
Lawmakers and NJ Transit alike have set goals and incentives to promote electric vehicles in the state, but there are conflicting timelines for implementation. Lawmakers set a target for purchasing only electric buses by 2032, with a benchmark to have 10 percent of bus purchases be electric by December 31, 2024. However, NJ Transit’s most recent capital plan sets a target date for full electrification by 2040. Without a dedicated source of funding and an end to the NJ Transit capital to operating raids, it will be difficult to achieve that mandate. However, NJ Transit plans on creating a bus electrification master plan by 2022. As the economic crisis exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic continues, the capital and strategic plans may see further changes as well.
“We are an inflection point where three large and related challenges converge – the climate, social and racial justice and health,” said Pam Frank, CEO of ChargEVC. “This moment creates a generational opportunity to do big things. We must seize it, doubling down on the commitment and speed to electrify transit. Most important, we need to think differently about what a public transit system can be.”
Despite a commitment to a clean energy future, lawmakers have not identified a source of sustainable funding for bus electrification. The webinar included funding recommendations from state and federal sources, including ending raids of NJ Transit’s capital fund, dedicating funding from the NJ Turnpike Authority, diverting funding from the $16 billion in ill-advised road widening projects, and federal grants.
“Transitioning from diesel to electric buses is a common-sense, cost-effective approach to combating climate change,” said Nausheen Rajan, report author and 2020 Kathleen Crotty Fellow at New Jersey Policy Perspective (NJPP). “Electric buses will reduce the environmental dangers and damage to health that ride along with diesel buses every day. They will also help narrow the wide disparities in New Jersey where some people — especially those in communities of color — face barriers to leading healthy lives.”
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Environment New Jersey Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting our air, water and open spaces. We work to protect the places we love, advance the environmental values we share, and win real results for our environment. For more information, visit www.environmentnewjerseycenter.org.