The electrified future of transportation is coming to city and school buses across the U.S. On Monday, Vice President Kamala Harris announced billions in funding for programs that will reduce carbon emissions from public transit, one of the best ways to help the U.S. get on track to meet its climate goals.
The new initiatives and funding are largely tied to cash in the bipartisan infrastructure bill. The Department of Transportation is overseeing most of the new funding. The Low- or No-Emission Transit Vehicle Program is getting a $1.1 billion chunk of change for 2022. The money will go to public transit agencies and states looking to upgrade their fleets to electric vehicles or ones that run on relatively cleaner fuel, such as compressed natural gas or propane. This is complemented by an additional $372 million investment coming from the existing Bus and Bus Facilities program budget.
The administration is also distributing $2.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan to 35 transit agencies in 18 states in order to train transit workers to maintain new fleets and keep transit running during the transition. An additional $7 million will be allocated to the Environmental Protection to replace polluting diesel school buses with electric ones.
Transportation is the largest source of carbon emissions in the U.S., so any effort to clean it up is a huge win. The slew of programs is a big step toward the administration’s stated goals of addressing climate change by reducing carbon emissions. But the bipartisan infrastructure law could end up being a one step forward, two steps back approach. The law also includes major money for expanding roads. Because of that, an analysis by the Georgetown Climate Center found that the law may actually increase baseline carbon emissions 1.6% over the course of this decade.
That sounds like a relatively small increase, but the Biden administration has pledged to cut U.S. carbon emissions at least 50% by 2030, meaning every fraction of a percent matters. The administration has also run into other challenges around cleaning up transportation, including its own backyard. Postmaster General Louis DeJoy moved forward electrifying just 10% of the Postal Service fleet last month, against the administration’s recommendation.
And while electrifying personal vehicles is a big plus, electrifying public transit could pay even greater dividends. In addition to reducing carbon emissions, investing in more robust electrified public transit options can reduce congestion and improve safety for pedestrians. A 2020 report from the public transit advocacy group Transit Center found that addressing the "fundamental scarcity" of transit options for most people should be a central role of federal policy. That same report calls for $50 billion per year for public transit funding (it was at $13 billion at the time it was published), so there's still a lot more work to be done.