Mug shots of Sens. Schumer and Sherrod

Senators Unveil $73B ‘Clean Transit for America’ Plan

Two key Senate Democrats introduced a $73 billion plan on May 4 to transition the nation’s transit buses and vans to Zero Emission Vehicle or ZEV platforms.

The “Clean Transit for America” plan – introduced by Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the senate’s majority leader, and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, chairman of the Senate Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs – would replace America’s 70,000 mass transit buses and 85,000 cutaway/transit vans to “clean energy vehicles.” The plan would also prioritize funding for areas with the worst air quality first.

Currently in the United States, only 2 percent of buses are ZEVs, argued Sen. Schumer in a statement. He added that the volume of air pollutants from diesel buses disproportionally affects low-income communities and communities of color. 

“To reduce the carbon in our atmosphere and address the climate crisis, we must transform our transit system,” he said. “The Clean Transit for America proposal will replace dirty, diesel-spewing buses, create new American jobs, help save the planet and protect public health, particularly in our country’s most vulnerable communities.”

“Americans deserve world-class public transportation that is delivered with modern, zero-emission buses built by American workers,” added Sen. Brown. “The Clean Transit for America Plan will create a significant number of good-paying, union jobs building zero-emission buses in the U.S. It is the kind of transformative investment we need in public transit that will put Americans to work [and] connects people with opportunity.”

In a related effort, Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., recently outlined a “vision” for how the Environmental Protection Agency could adopt standards to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions in the automotive industry and eliminate tailpipe pollution from new cars by 2035.

“The future of the automobile manufacturing sector is at a crossroads,” Sen. Carper – chairman of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works – explained in a letter to EPA Administrator Michael Regan.

“The Clean Air Act provides sufficient authority for the EPA to rise to this challenge,” he said in a statement released with the letter. “EPA can establish requirements on new cars that would significantly reduce air pollution harming communities, put the nation on track to maintain its leadership in vehicle technology, and make significant progress in fighting climate change.”

Sen. Carper added that “if the U.S. does not establish a robust policy that leads to ZEV deployment” he warned the nation “will be at risk of losing our automotive jobs and industry leadership to other nations, as well as enduring unnecessary public health impacts from pollution.”

Twelve Governors Urge Biden Administration to Impose ZEV Mandate

The governors of 12 states – California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington – recently signed a joint letter urging the Biden Administration to establish national zero emission vehicle standards. They also urged the administration to leverage the proposed $2.3 trillion American Jobs Plan to provide more fiscal support for ZEV infrastructure construction.

[Above photo via the Massachusetts Governor’s Office.]

The April 21 letter calls on the administration to require all new passenger cars and light-duty trucks sold to be zero-emission by 2035, with all new medium-duty and heavy-duty vehicles sold to be zero-emission by 2045.

“By establishing a clear regulatory path to ensuring that all vehicles sold in the United States are zero-emission, we can finally clear the air and create high-road jobs,” the governors said in the letter.

“Moving quickly towards a zero-emission transportation future will protect the health of all communities,” they added. “With bold federal leadership, American workers will lead the way in designing, building and driving clean and affordable vehicles.”

The governors highlighted how investments proposed within the administration’s American Jobs Plan investments could support the “scaling up” of ZEV charging and refueling infrastructure – enhancing the investments already made by states.

For example, the California Department of Transportation in February installed 22 new “fast-charging” stations for electric vehicles or EVs at nine locations along the state’s highway network.

Six energy utility companies announced in March that they are joining forces to build a seamless network of EV charging stations connecting major highway systems from the Atlantic Coast, through the Midwest and South, and into the Gulf and Central Plains regions.

Meanwhile, the governors also requested in their letter an expansion of tax credits to support the manufacturing of zero-emissions trucks, buses, and charging stations and funding to promote equitable access to ZEVs and transportation electrification at the local level.

One example of that is the deployment by the Cherokee Nation of two electric transit buses to transport employees and tribal citizens to work and tribal health centers, along with an electric school bus.

The tribe said it used a $1.5 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant awarded in 2018 to help pay for those buses as well as construction of the recharging station.

“The Cherokee Nation has always been a leader in environmental conservation and forward-thinking efforts that will reduce harmful activities impacting our natural resources,” said Principal Chief Chuck Hoskin Jr. in a statement. “As we work to reduce our carbon emissions by 25 percent by 2027, we are investing in sustainable projects that will have many long-term benefits,” he added. “Our responsibility as stewards of the land, air, and water will always be one of our most significant values, and introducing these eco-friendly transit vehicles into our fleet is an example of how we can make a great difference in our environment.”

Small Alabama Town Overcomes Barriers to Establish All-Electric Ferry

For two years, the Alabama Department of Transportation has quietly run an all-electric passenger and vehicle ferry, giving a tiny African-American community the distinction of having the only such vessel in the United States.

[Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.]

The story of how this unique ferry wound up in Gee’s Bend exemplifies the fundamental role transportation plays in civil rights, environmental, and social justice issues.

In the 1900s, Gee’s Bend had a hand-powered ferry – a wooden raft tethered to a cable stretched across the Alabama River. The old ferry linked Gee’s Bend – a community of about 300 people – to Camden, the county seat, where most of the grocery stores, schools, medical facilities, and government offices – including the voting registrar – are established. Without it, a 15-minute drive from Gee’s Bend to Camden turns into an hour-long journey.

“God blessed us to be able to have this ferry,” said Mary Ann Pettway, a champion African-American quilter and lifelong resident of Gee’s Bend. “That ferry is very important to all of us.”

Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.

However, as the civil rights movement rippled through Gee’s Bend in the 1960s, the ferry disappeared without explanation. The truth of its demise is as murky as the river it crossed, but the loss symbolized a host of injustices heaped upon the people of Gee’s Bend, who had limited access to jobs, education, medical care or emergency services.

That all began to change one night in 1993 when Hollis Curl – owner of The Wilcox Progressive Era, the county newspaper – looked across the river toward Gee’s Bend and saw smoke rising from a house fire. He knew the house was doomed and everyone inside was in danger because there was no ferry to get firefighters there in time.

“When I was a child, I remember him talking about it,” said Ethan Van Sice, the grandson of Curl, who died in 2010. “People’s houses were being burned down. He saw that smoke across the river and I think something in him clicked.”

Curl penned a front-page editorial, arguing that re-establishing the ferry would be good for both communities. The increased mobility, Curl wrote, would provide the children in Gee’s Bend with a chance at a better education and a better quality of life for everyone.

People in Camden were astonished at the newspaper’s editorial shift, but Curl’s words left them unmoved.

“It wasn’t totally received well,” Van Sice said.

Undeterred, Curl started a crusade to re-establish the ferry – and he found a willing partner in the Alabama DOT or ALDOT.

“We saw a need there,” said Josh Phillips, a public information officer for the agency. “We said, ‘We need to find a way to make this happen.’ It became a special project for ALDOT.”

Photo courtesy of the Alabama DOT.

After years of planning and some federal funding, the Alabama DOT finished the ferry in 2006, reconnecting Gee’s Bend to the rest of the world.

The ferry broke down often, however, and the service was unreliable. Ultimately, the agency decided to convert the ferry from diesel to electric power, replacing all the diesel components electric parts, lithium-ion batteries, cooling systems, and a computer and software package to orchestrate the operation.

The Alabama DOT also negotiated with two power companies to get sufficient electricity to each landing to re-charge the ferry’s massive batteries between trips.

In spring of 2019, it all came together, and the first all-electric ferry in the United States purred across the Alabama River from the Camden terminal to Gee’s Bend.

Mike Wilson of the Alabama DOT said other state departments of transportation can make the conversion to all-electric in certain situations.

“The technologies are pretty much off-the-shelf technologies, so it’s doable in the right circumstances,” he said. “Most operations that are trying to do something like this go to a hybrid boat simply because the routes are longer. Our route is such that we didn’t need to do that.”

Tim Aguirre, general manager of HMS Ferries Alabama, said the first lesson is “don’t start from scratch. There’s a lot of experience out there on this, and there are engineering firms that know how to do this.” Having the nation’s first all-electric ferry in Gee’s Bend is “a fascinating story with a neat outcome,” Aguirre said. “Ferries connect communities; they always have.”

ETAP Podcast: Managing the Transition to Electric Vehicles

In this episode of the Environmental Technical Assistance Program or ETAP Podcast, Shoshana Lew – executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation – discusses the critical role state DOTs are playing in helping electrify the nation’s transportation system.

[‘Photo by the Colorado DOT.]

Prior to heading the Colorado DOT, Lew worked for nearly two years as the chief operating officer of the Rhode Island Department of Transportation. She also spent eight years serving the Obama Administration, including a stint as chief financial officer for the U.S. Department of Transportation.

“My career has been at the nexus of finance and infrastructure issues,” she explained on the podcast. “It’s provided an interesting vantage point to see how investment in infrastructure impacts the economy on a ‘macro’ scale as well as how it impacts everyone’s daily lives.”

Moving from the federal level to the state level added another level of detail to that transportation discussion, Lew said. When she first joined the Colorado DOT, she visited all 64 counties across the state to talk about what transportation issues they experienced. That also provided her with insight into the challenges of electrifying the state’s transportation system.

“This is something we are hugely focused on; it is kind of the moment for this,” Lew emphasized. “I think what you’ve seen last five years is the tipping point for electric vehicles (EVs) – we are at the cusp of the transition but makes the challenges very different. To get people where they need to go – for EVs to work in this space – we need to build out the EV recharging network. That has to happen now so state residents can have the option of using EVs and traveling to farthest reaches of the state.”

She pointed out that it cannot be understated how big the transition to EVs will be – especially in terms of how it will help everyone rethink mobility.

“The state DOT cannot do it all by itself – there are huge roles to be played by the private sector, public utilities, the state department of energy, and others,” Lew said. “You need to have everyone thinking about this.” To hear the full podcast, click here.

Energy Utility Coalition Plans to Build EV Recharging Network

Six energy utility companies are joining forces to build a seamless network of electric vehicle or EV charging stations connecting major highway systems from the Atlantic Coast, through the Midwest and South, and into the Gulf and Central Plains regions.

[Above photo of EV recharging station by Walmart.]

The Electric Highway Coalition – made up of American Electric Power or AEP, Dominion Energy, Duke Energy, Entergy Corporation, Southern Co., and the Tennessee Valley Authority – plans to establish a network of direct current or DC “fast chargers” within their service territories that can repower a typical EV in 20 to 30 minutes.

Nicholas Akins, AEP’s chairman, president, and CEO said in a statement that this effort will provide drivers with “effective, efficient, and convenient charging options” that enable long-distance EV travel, with the coalition also considering recharging sites along major highway routes with easy highway access and amenities for travelers.

“Throughout the ages, travelers have had to figure out how to get from point A to B. From feeding and watering horses to filling gas tanks, and now recharging batteries, ensuring that there are convenient places to accomplish these tasks is critical,” he said. “With this effort, we are working to help drivers see that EVs fit their lifestyle and their travel plans, wherever the road might take them.”

Several state departments of transportation are also engaged in similar build-out efforts to establish networks of EV rechargers along major highways.

For example, the California Department of Transportation – known as Caltrans – recently finished installing 22 new “fast-charging” EVs stations at nine locations along the state’s highway network.

The agency said the 22 Level 3 DC fast chargers deployed as part of this $4.5 million project provide an approximate 80 percent charge in 30 minutes to EVs with fast-charging capability. The units also feature “universal connectors” so they can re-charge all EVs on the market, including Teslas, with an adapter. Charging is free with no time limit, Caltrans added.

In September 2020, the Rhode Island Department of Transportation began providing free access to EV recharging stations situated at two of its park and ride commuter lots as part of a pilot program to encourage and support the broader use of EVs across the state. And in July 2020, DriveOhio – a division of the Ohio Department of Transportation – outlined a new statewide strategy to help expand statewide EV use in an Electric Vehicle Charging Study, which recommended building EV charging stations at least every 50 miles at specific locations along interstate, state, and U.S. route corridors.

E-BIKE Act Would Offer Tax Credit for Electric Bicycles

Congressional legislation introduced on February 9 by Reps. Jimmy Panetta, D-Calif., and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would create a consumer tax credit to spur sales of electric bicycles for commuting and recreational purposes.

[Photo courtesy Jason Vogel, via Wikimedia Commons.]

The Electric Bicycle Incentive Kickstart for the Environment or E-BIKE Act would create a consumer tax credit that covers 30 percent of the cost of a new electric bicycle costing less than $8,000, up to a $1,500 credit.

“My legislation will make it easier for more people from all socio-economic levels to own e-bikes and contribute to cutting our carbon output,” explained Rep Panetta in a statement. “By incentivizing the use of electric bicycles to replace car trips through a consumer tax credit, we can not only encourage more Americans to transition to greener modes of transportation but also help fight the climate crisis.”

“Communities large and small are driving a bike boom [and] notably, electric bicycles are expanding the range of people who can participate and making bike commuting even easier,” noted Rep. Blumenauer, who is also the founder and co-chair of the Congressional Bike Caucus. “I look forward to working with Congressman Panetta on this important expansion of cycling opportunities.”

“The League knows life is better for everyone when more people ride bikes, and we know e-bikes make biking a more accessible and easier option for more Americans,” said Bill Nesper, executive director of the League of American Bicyclists. “We’re encouraged by congressional leadership on the E-BIKE Act, a bill that if passed will enable Americans to fight climate change and improve public health through the simple act of bicycling.”

Separately, the League of American Bicyclists recently named Tampa, FL, the number one city in the country for bicycle-friendly businesses or BFBs – a program that requires businesses to support and promote cycling to their customers, employees, and the community by providing bike parking, safety education, and promotions for retail customers who arrive by bike.

Tampa currently has 66 certified BFBs such as Tampa International Airport and Tampa General Hospital, adding nine new businesses in 2021 with six others renewing and improving their level of certification. “It’s exciting to see more and more cities such as Tampa embracing and encouraging safe, efficient multimodal transportation options,” noted Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault in a statement. “[We] appreciate this recognition from the Bicycle Friendly Business program as well as their efforts to recognize businesses going the extra mile for their employees and communities.”

Caltrans Deploys Fast-Charging Stations for EVs

The California Department of Transportation recently finished the installation of 22 new “fast-charging” stations for electric vehicles or EVs at nine locations along the state’s highway network.

[Photo courtesy of the California Department of Transportation.]

“Fast chargers are essential to continue growing EV adoption in California and meeting our state’s goals for combating climate change,” explained Toks Omishakin, Caltrans director, in a statement. “Expanding the availability of convenient fast-charging stations along state highways is significant for the future of California transportation.”

The agency said the 22 Level 3 DC fast chargers deployed as part of this $4.5 million project provide an approximate 80 percent charge in 30 minutes to EVs with fast-charging capability. The units also feature “universal connectors” so they can re-charge all EVs on the market, including Teslas, with an adapter. Charging is free with no time limit, Caltrans added.

“With four new EV fast chargers at the Tejon Pass Rest Area on Interstate 5 and 18 others staggered approximately 40 miles apart, Caltrans has reduced recharging concerns for plug-in EV drivers on long-distance trips through the Central Valley,” added Tony Tavares, director of Caltrans District 7.

According to the California Air Resources Board, 70 percent of statewide transportation-related greenhouse gas emissions come from light-duty vehicles, including passenger cars, Sport Utility Vehicles, and light-duty trucks.

“This project is a tremendous example of how public agencies can collaborate with the private sector to fill gaps in the zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) market,” said Tyson Eckerle, deputy director of ZEV market development for the Office of Business and Economic Development within the administration of Governor Gavin Newsom (D). “More chargers throughout the state will help to incentivize the purchase of EVs, getting us closer to Governor Newsom’s goal of 100 percent ZEV sales by 2035.”

Meanwhile, the Caltrans fast-charger deployment effort comes on the heels of a Biden-Harris administration executive order mandating that the federal government buy ZEVs for its fleet.

“We’re talking about national security and America leading the world in a clean energy future,” President Biden noted in remarks made before signing that executive order.

“The federal government owns and maintains an enormous fleet of vehicles, as you all know,” he said. “With today’s executive order, combined with the Buy American executive order, we’re going to harness the purchasing power of the federal government to buy clean, zero-emission vehicles that are made and sourced by union workers right here in America.”

The Biden-Harris executive order also coincides with a 63-page report recently released by the Center for Transportation and the Environment to provide suggestions for expanding the adoption of zero-emission buses in the U.S. transit industry.

That report – entitled Transit Vehicle Innovation Deployment Centers/TVIDC Advisory Panel Overview and Conclusions and published by the Federal Transit Administration – is the culmination of discussions held by the CTE-led advisory panel between the zero-emission industry and transit agency leaders and advocacy groups.

Florida DOT Gearing Up for Statewide EV Adoption

Although Florida trails other big states in government support for electric vehicle infrastructure, the Florida Department of Transportation is now taking a lead role in building out an EV recharging network, according to a new report.

[Photo courtesy of the Florida Governor’s Office.]

The Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and Atlas Public Policy recently published “Transportation Electrification in Florida,” a brief that makes the case that Florida’s government has not kept pace with its own citizens in transitioning to EV transportation. Floridians purchase 4 percent of all EVs in the country, but Florida’s government only spent $23.3 million on EV infrastructure, representing about 1 percent of all states’ spending, according to the report.

This has put Florida is in a “really unique situation” because it is second in the country in EV sales and number of chargers, but only 18th in per-capita sales and 30th in per capita chargers, according to Stan Cross, Electric Transportation Policy Director for SACE.

“What that means is that Florida runs the risk in getting behind in charging really quickly,” Cross said. “If numbers [of EV buyers] go up quickly, Florida can’t keep up.”

However, the Florida DOT is not only playing catch up, it is working to get ahead of the curve with a stated goal to “position Florida as a national leader in EV adoption and infrastructure,” according to a presentation to other agencies and stakeholders.

As a result, the agency is developing an EV charging infrastructure master plan for the state and preparing legislative initiatives to encourage even more EV usage. These actions were the result of the new Florida Essential Infrastructure Law that puts the Florida DOT and other state agencies in the EV business.

Right now, the agency is modeling location criteria for EV charging sites, formulating an implementation strategy, and forecasting future EV usage and its impact to the state’s Transportation Trust Fund – largely fueled by gasoline and diesel taxes. Florida DOT’s effort is comprehensive, including support of EV transit and school bus fleets and integration with hurricane and disaster evacuation plans.

“The [Florida] DOT is thinking through what some of the policy implications are for moving the needle, the principles that should drive the state’s thinking on this,” Cross said. “[They] have a lot to figure out, and they’ve put many of the right policy recommendations on the table.”

In a recent blog, Cross noted that many of the policies the Florida DOT is studying “are aligned with policy considerations being implemented successfully” in other states, including promoting EV usage throughout the state, supporting rural infrastructure development and study incentives to potential EV buyers and to utility companies to help build charging stations. Most of Florida DOT’s work is in the planning stages as it prepares to issue a status report with preliminary recommendations to the governor by December 1.

Connecticut DOT Helps Local Transit With EV Bus Purchases

The Connecticut Department of Transportation is helping “plug in” two all-electric buses into local transit routes in Bridgeport – with more on the way – as part of the agency’s effort to reduce greenhouse gas or GHG emissions across the state.

[Photo courtesy of the Connecticut Governor’s Office.]

The Connecticut DOT also is helping to finance charging stations, project management, and training for mechanics to maintain the new buses by tapping into Federal Transit Administration (FTA) 5307 Formula Funding, which helps cities and states with capital and operating costs for transportation-related planning.

Proterra manufactured those two all-electric battery-powered buses – the first ever deployed in Connecticut – which feature 440 kilowatt-hour (kWh) batteries, allowing them to operate up to 150 miles between charges. At a later date, Proterra plans to deliver three ZX5 model buses to that state; models equipped with 660 kWh batteries that can run up to 200 miles between charges.

“This is very much for us a test,” explained Doug Holcomb, general manager of Greater Bridgeport Transit (GBT). “We want to make sure the zero-emission buses work as well as a (diesel-powered) city bus.”

The environmental benefits of replacing diesel-engine buses with all-electric vehicles can be significant. Even after factoring in emissions from the electricity generated to run the buses, switching two diesel-engine buses to electric buses can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by about 450,000 pounds a year, according to GBT.

The start-up costs can be steep, however. The 40-foot electric battery buses cost about $200,000 more than their traditional diesel counterparts, a 125-kWh charger runs about $60,000, and mechanics need training on how to maintain those new buses. “It’s a whole different animal, from the monocoque body to the different components it has,” Holcomb said.

Yet GBT believes lower operating costs will balance the ledger over the long haul. Electricity costs for two electric buses are around $36,000 a year, compared to about $58,000 a year to fuel two diesel buses for the same number of miles, according to the agency. Plus, maintenance costs are expected to drop by about 30 percent because of fewer moving parts, fewer lubricants, and improved brake life.

Battery life may be affected by colder weather, Holcomb said, but GBT is installing heaters that don’t run off the main batteries to maximize miles.

Other state departments of transportation are also sponsoring a variety of electric bus initiatives.

The New York State Department of Transportation, for example, is providing $7 million in funding to support the deployment of 10 all-electric buses for the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority’s Regional Transit Service or RTS fleet that serves more than 1.1 million New Yorkers in eight counties of the Finger Lakes Region.

“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,” explained Marie Therese Dominguez, commissioner of the New York State DOT, in an October 7 statement. “We are 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.”

The FTA also continues to provide state DOTs with funds to make further investments in electric buses and related systems. In June, the agency issued $130 million in grants via its Low- or No-Emission program that provided the Colorado Department of Transportation, Idaho Transportation Department, and Massachusetts Department of Transportation – among others – with funds to acquire and/or expand electric-powered buses for local transit fleets.

Rhode Island DOT Launches EV Recharging Project

The Rhode Island Department of Transportation will provide free access to electric vehicle (EV) recharging stations situated at two of its park and ride commuter lots as part of a pilot program to encourage and support broader use of EVs across the state.

[Above photo via WJAR.]

The program – operated by the Rhode Island DOT in conjunction with the Rhode Island Office of Energy Resources and National Grid – is offering free EV recharging via those two sites through the end of 2020 in order to evaluate energy “usage patterns” to help plan more recharging system deployments in the future.

Director Alviti Jr.; photo courtesy of
Rhode Island DOT

“Electric cars are becoming more common on our streets, and the commuter parking lots we own are a perfect test bench for us to evaluate the demand for this service,” noted Peter Alviti, Jr., Rhode Island DOT’s director, in a statement. “There are a number of barriers to electric car adoption, among them concerns about range and access to fast, convenient charging stations. These stations help alleviate those concerns.”

The charging stations – which cost $300,000 – feature 240-volt Level II and direct current fast charging or DCFC options. The agency said Level II chargers provide 25 miles of range per hour of charging, while the DCFC chargers provide approximately 250 miles of range in an hour of charging. Each park and ride lot recharger accommodates up to six cars charging on the Level II chargers and two cars using the DCFC fast chargers, the Rhode Island DOT noted.

The agency added that the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority services both of the lots hosting those rechargers, allowing electric car users to repower their vehicles while using transit service for work or school. The Rhode Island DOT emphasized that transit users should not use the DCFC fast chargers for extended periods, as they are more suited for use by travelers seeking a brief stop to recharge their vehicles while on long trips.

Analysis conducted by the Idaho National Laboratory using Nissan Leaf all-electric vehicles found that where recharging was fast, public stations were popular – as long as the price to do so is low. The INL report also noted DCFC fast chargers use increased when located near highway interstate exits; giving EV drivers “more confidence” to take longer trips, while local drivers could re-power quickly on days when recharging at home or work proved less convenient.