NJ Transit lays out road map to green future

Agency details plan to turn its bus fleet all electric over two decades. It’s a key plank in Murphy plan for green energy
Credit: (AP Photo/Mel Evans)
File photo: Diesel-powered buses eventually are set to become a thing of the past for NJ Transit.

By 2040, NJ Transit plans to complete the transition of its fleet of buses to 100% zero-emission vehicles, according to a new road map released this week by the agency.

The commitment by the agency was welcomed by clean-energy advocates who want to ramp up purchase of electric buses to replace diesel buses, which can worsen air quality, particularly in urban areas where many of their routes are based.

“The roadmap to achieving a 100 percent zero-emission bus fleet by 2040 is establishing the foundation that will ultimately create NJ Transit’s environmentally friendly fleet of the future,’’ said NJ Transit Board Vice-Chair Cedrick Fulton. “Advancing the modernization of NJ Transit’s bus garages and applying for additional federal funding for electric buses are critical steps to meeting this very ambitious and important goal.’’

To reach the goal, the agency will be required to speed up the purchase of electric buses, a step that could cost $5.7 billion for the vehicles as well as the requisite charging infrastructure and modernization of decades-old bus garages.

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Electrifying the transportation system, which accounts for more than 40% of the state’s greenhouse-gas emissions, is a top priority of the Murphy administration. Dirty, diesel-belching trucks and buses contribute to degrading air quality in urban areas suffering from undue pollution burdens.

Aggressive targets

Without cleaning up pollution from the transportation sector, New Jersey will never achieve its goal of reducing climate-warming emissions or its aggressive clean-energy targets, officials argue.

A law signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in 2020 set goals for the agency to increase spending on electric buses — mandating 10% of bus procurement be zero-emission vehicles in 2024; 50% new buses by 2026; and 100% in 2032. Because diesel buses typically last a decade or more, the conversion to 100% electric buses is not expected to occur until 2040.

As of this April, the state’s fleet of diesel buses numbered 2,183. Diesel buses cost considerably less than electric buses, with the difference approaching $250,000 on each purchase. Advocates argue reduced pollution will offset those costs, improving health in communities with high pollution burdens.

“This is a 20-year transformation of NJ Transit’s bus fleet,’’ said Doug O’Malley, director of Environment New Jersey, noting it is not going to happen overnight. “This is the commitment we have been waiting for from NJ Transit.’’

Need to modernize garages too

The commitment is a huge challenge, necessitating detailed plans for not only buying more expensive electric buses but modernizing garages so the zero-emission vehicles can be charged overnight when not running. NJ Transit is turning to federal agencies to help fund some of these projects.

Last September, the agency began that process by awarding a $3.2 million contract to a Vineland company to renovate a Camden bus depot with electric vehicle charging stations and other associated infrastructure modifications. The agency also used funds from the New Jersey Economic Development Authority to buy eight electric buses; they are expected to be delivered this fall.

The new buses will be tested in real-world conditions on NJ Transit routes in the area to evaluate how vehicles perform, including travel distance between recharging times. Eventually, the modernization of garages will extend to Maplewood, and then to other depots in north Jersey and a handful of others further south, including Hamilton, Howell, and Washington Township.