Nearly $20 million available to electrify transit, school buses

New York state will offer a series of initiatives to increase the number of electric buses statewide as part of its efforts to mitigate climate change and boost access to clean transportation in underserved communities. The effort includes more than $16 million in incentives for the expansion of electric bus usage among public transportation authorities and $2.5 million for school bus operators to purchase cleaner forms of transportation.

“Electrifying transit and school buses at scale is an important step in our fight against climate change and is essential in helping us reach our ambitious goals to create a greener New York state,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo said in a statement last week. “Through these initiatives, bus operators will now have the support and resources they need to modernize their fleets, reduce emissions and ensure underserved communities have cleaner public transit options as we work to further reduce our carbon footprint.”

Under the New York Truck Voucher Incentive Program, $16.4 million in Volkswagen settlement funding will be made available to five of the largest public transit operators in the state, including the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority, to facilitate their fleets’ transition towards 100 percent zero-emission fleets by 2035, a goal Cuomo announced in his 2020 State of the State Address.

Through the program, purchasers of new, zero-emissions all-electric transit buses are eligible to have 100 percent of the incremental vehicle cost covered on the condition that the buses are housed at bus depots or operate on routes located within a half-mile of a disadvantaged community.

The funding builds on the NYTVIP expansion announced early last year. Combined, the five transit operators run more than 1,300 buses.

To provide further support, New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) and the New York Power Authority (NYPA) have reached an agreement that includes more than $1 million in funding for a new program to help the five upstate and suburban transit operators develop plans to convert to all-electric transit buses.

“By working with regional transit and school bus fleet operators we are removing dirty, polluting vehicles from our roadways and helping communities eliminate the health and environmental risks from carbon emissions,” said Doreen Harris, acting president and CEO of NYSERDA and Climate Action Council co-chair. “Investing in all-electric buses and offering transit authorities technical assistance shows the serious commitment that we are making under Gov. Cuomo’s plan to provide access to clean transportation options for all New Yorkers.”

Another $2.5 million also is available through the NYTVIP to school bus operators statewide to support the purchase of cleaner, less polluting buses. Funding will help cover up to 100 percent of incremental costs for all-electric school buses operating near a disadvantaged community. The program reduces the cost to purchase new, clean electric or alternative-fueled buses through point of sale rebates offered through a qualified vendor.

On Dec. 23, the state Office of General Services issued a Request for Information seeking details from manufacturers and dealers about electric and hybrid transit buses currently available in the marketplace. Responses to the RFI, which are due by Jan. 21, will be used to develop a solicitation for electric and hybrid buses with the goal of providing transit authorities with options for purchasing green vehicles for their fleets.

“One of the most impactful strategies to help bridge New York’s nation-leading greenhouse gas emissions goals is through strategic investments in high-quality, high-frequency public transportation services,” said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. “Electrification of public transportation fleets will build upon the more than 17 million metric tons annually of greenhouse gas emissions that these systems help to avoid.”

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RTS adds 10 electric buses to fleet

Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority has added the first 10 electric buses to its Regional Transit Service fleet, part of an ongoing effort to reduce carbon emissions produced by traditional diesel-fuel buses.

As announced in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s State of the State address earlier this year, RTS and four other transit agencies have committed to having a 25 percent electric bus fleet by 2025 and a totally electric fleet by 2035. Wednesday’s announcement puts RTS on pace to exceed that goal.

“The future of public transit technology has arrived in the Finger Lakes region and I am grateful to be working with such a talented team of employees, supporters and partners to put RGRTA on the leading edge of this effort,” said RGRTA CEO Bill Carpenter. “This project is a true win for taxpayers and the community. By adding electric buses, we are embracing the future of transit, reducing costs for taxpayers, improving the environment and making sure we can continue providing safe, reliable mobility for our customers. I thank Gov. Cuomo and everyone involved in the project for making it possible. Because of the work we have done and what we learned over the past three years, we are well-positioned to meet Gov. Cuomo’s goals for 2025 and 2035.”

New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez (at podium) joins RTS CEO Bill Carpenter in announcing 10 electric buses serving the Finger Lakes region. (provided)
New York State Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez (at podium) joins RTS CEO Bill Carpenter in announcing 10 electric buses serving the Finger Lakes region. (provided)

In April 2017, Cuomo announced funding for RTS to acquire its first electric buses and associated charging equipment. RTS expects to have 20 electric buses and charging infrastructure in place by the end of 2021 and estimates its fleet will be 35 percent electric by 2025, exceeding the governor’s goals and on pace to have a fully electric fleet by 2035.

“Regional Transit Service recognizes the need for cleaner power sources and, like NYPA, is a leader in the change-over to zero-emission transportation,” said New York Power Authority President and CEO Gil Quiniones. “Replacing diesel-powered buses is a key step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. The New York Power Authority is pleased to support this electric bus initiative that will help address air pollution in urban communities that can be exposed to a disproportionate share of emissions.”

The total cost of the 10 buses and associated charging infrastructure was roughly $12 million, which includes $7 million administered by the state Department of Transportation; $2.3 million of the $127.7 million in Volkswagen diesel emissions settlement funds, administered by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and implemented by NYSERDA and NYPA; $1.7 million provided by RGRTA; and $1 million from the Federal Transit Administration.

“Today’s announcement underscores New York’s commitment to developing innovative approaches that advance and align our state’s progressive transportation and environmental agendas. This impressive new fleet is reflective of a broader goal: investing in sustainable, high-quality transportation networks and a greener, more environmentally-just New York,” said Senate Transportation Chairman Tim Kennedy.

The addition of the first ten electric buses to the RTS fleet is expected to reduce greenhouse emissions by 905 metric tons per year. RTS also expects to save costs on fuel and maintenance each year, with a total cost of ownership savings of $187,000 per bus compared with traditional diesel buses.

“Under Governor Cuomo’s leadership, New York State continues to make smart, sustainable investments in our transportation systems that will result in a reduced carbon footprint across the Empire State benefiting generations to come,” said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Marie Therese Dominguez. “DOT is excited to lead the way in addressing our changing climate and supporting the electrification of public transit systems here in Rochester and across the state.”

Six of the 10 battery-powered electric buses are in service across the Finger Lakes region. RTS expects the remaining four buses will be in service this November. RTS serves more than 1.1 million New Yorkers in eight counties of the Finger Lakes Region.

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Follow Velvet Spicer on Twitter: @Velvet_Spicer