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NJ Urged to Electrify Transit Sector Rapidly, Starting with Bus Fleet

There isn’t a single electric bus in NJ Transit’s fleet of 2,200 vehicles. Environmentalists are pushing for that to change posthaste

Bus NJ Transit
Credit: wikipedia.org

By some accounts, New Jersey has been slow to electrify its transportation sector, the largest source of emissions contributing to climate change.

If environmentalists have their way, the state would begin redressing that shortcoming by converting its fleet of mostly diesel buses to zero-emission or electric vehicles.

In a new campaign unveiled by some of New Jersey’s most prominent environmental and other climate organizations, they’ve vowed to push for swifter and broader electrification of the transit sector by focusing on buses.

“This is about a wholesale revolution about transforming of the transportation sector,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey.

It is no small task. NJ Transit has no electric buses in its fleet of more than 2,200 vehicles (although it has 147 buses running on compressed natural gas), according to Jim Smith, a spokesman for the agency.

Few all-electric buses in U.S.

Nationwide, more than 60 percent of the nation’s nearly 70,000 transit buses run on diesel, and another 18 percent run on natural gas, but just 0.2 percent of buses are all-electric, according to a study by the Frontier Group.

“Diesel buses threaten our families well-being by contributing to a number of health concerns, including asthma and cancer,’’ said Alana Miller, a policy analyst at the Frontier Group.

diesel schoolbus
School buses that run on diesel

Even fewer school buses, which transport children more vulnerable to pollution impacts, according to studies run on cleaner fuels than diesel. Approximately 95 percent of America’s school buses run on diesel.

“It is an issue of environmental justice,’’ argued Amy Goldsmith, New Jersey state director of Clean Water Action, which has been pushing for electrification of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey. “The people who rely on buses are those most exposed to the pollution.’’

Last month, the New Jersey Sierra chapter of the Sierra Club voted to launch a campaign to promote electric school buses. “This campaign would help us make progress in reducing greenhouse gases and creating cleaner air for communities and especially children to breathe,’’ said Jeff Tittel, director of the club.

School buses the first to electrify?

Bills are pending in the Legislature to promote pilot programs to have school districts start using electric buses, but proponents are also expected to introduce other bills this fall for more comprehensive electrification of the transportation sector.

At a hearing last week on a proposed new state energy master plan, several speakers urged the state to give a greater priority to advancing the electrification of the transportation sector.

“Clean air and a safe climate are sacred gifts,’’ said Fletcher Harper, executive director of GreenFaith. “That means dirty transportation has to go. Electric buses and cars represent a future about life. We can’t get them on the road fast enough.’’

There are more than 15,000 electric vehicles on the road in New Jersey, far less than in other states in the Northeast, a situation some blame on the lack of publicly available charging stations.

NJ Transit has sought funding to buy more electric buses, but has yet to receive enough grant money to fund both the purchase of the vehicles and charging stations, according to Smith.

Electric buses cost about $700,000, according to O’Malley, who toured a manufacturing facility for the vehicles yesterday in Burlingame, California, compared to about $400,000 for diesel buses.

Smith said the transit agency is seeking additional funding to obtain and operate electric buses.

Like much of the Northeast, the transportation sector is the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in New Jersey.

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