Electric buses will bring us cleaner, quieter, healthier communities

Staff | TPIN
Gideon Weissman

Former Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

2020 has been a difficult year, but despite all the pain and uncertainty, there are still signs of hope for a brighter future. This week, Frontier Group analysts share stories of the societal changes, technologies and movements that inspire us.

Just a few weeks ago, the Delaware Transit Corporation announced it had received new federal funding for what feels like the platonic ideal of a clean energy project: A solar array on top of an electric bus facility in Dover. The project provides a glimpse of the truly clean, emission-free transportation that we get when we ride public transit powered by the wind or sun.

When it comes to climate technologies, it’s easy to forget about buses, which have been faithfully serving our cities and schoolkids for a century. The buses on the road today are already helping fight global warming, as they allow millions of people to get around without a car. Once electrified, buses become a superhero of clean energy tech — like personal electric vehicles, but with even bigger and better benefits:

  • Buses spend their time driving through our densest population centers, or hauling kids to school. So just one emission-free electric bus immediately makes the air healthier to breathe for the hundreds or thousands of people who ride it every day or live along its route — especially important for kids on school buses, who are particularly vulnerable to the effects of diesel exhaust.
  • Both transit and school electric buses provide amplified climate benefits.1 City buses are in use almost constantly, and they also tend to drive in stop-and-go traffic where regenerative braking is particularly effective at recharging the battery. And school buses can be used for battery storage during the summer or the daytime to store excess wind and solar energy from the electric grid.
  • Electric buses are whisper quiet, which will immediately improve the quality of life for anyone who rides the bus, or walks, bikes, or lives next to a bus route. As someone who does all of these things, this benefit is particularly exciting to me.

Over the last few years, these benefits have been arriving in communities around the country. As of the end of 2019, there were just about 650 electric buses in operation in the U.S. — a small fraction of all buses, but double the number that were on the road just a few years ago. As our report Electric Buses in America described, the experiences of communities that have adopted electric buses have provided important lessons that should help the next wave of transit agencies looking to go electric. And recent pledges by California, New York City and Seattle to transition to zero-emission fleets mean that 33 percent of all transit buses in the U.S. are now committed to go electric by 2045.

Right now, amid COVID-19, transit agencies face a big task just to preserve existing service, as the pandemic has led to slashed revenue and increased costs for keeping workers safe.

But that doesn’t mean that progress on electric buses needs to grind to a halt. In the midst of the pandemic, the Federal Transit Administration announced $130 million in funding for projects in 40 states (including that Delaware solar bus station) through the Low-No Emission Program, and another $28 million for projects in Florida through the Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Program. And transit agencies have been jumping at the opportunity to move forward with these projects that, in the long run, can save local U.S. governments billions.

In Florida, WMNF News reported that one board member of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit “couldn’t stop smiling” at news of the grants and that, with ridership holding strong during the pandemic, “the funding couldn’t come at a better time.” Even amid this pandemic, our transit agencies are hopeful about a future of electric buses. And I am, too.

Photo credit: New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority via Flickr



  1. Even compared to buses powered by natural gas, which have overstated climate benefits. See the section “Natural Gas Buses Contribute to Global Warming” in our 2018 Electric Buses report.↩︎



Gideon Weissman

Former Policy Analyst, Frontier Group

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