By Robert A. Krohn
The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority is considering the purchase of several zero-emission electric buses for its Metro Bus fleet. The Sierra Club Niagara Group strongly supports this initiative for its environmental, health and economic benefits.
Electric buses operate exclusively on electricity, which is a far more efficient energy source than gasoline. These buses produce no tailpipe emissions and add no pollution to the environment. The cleaner air will improve public health and reduce the incidence of illnesses such as heart and lung disease. Furthermore, electric buses emit no greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.
The NFTA currently uses a fleet of diesel, compressed natural gas and hybrid buses. Hybrids use a combination of diesel and electric motors. The carbon emitted by diesel exhaust and the methane released by natural gas contribute to air pollution and climate change. Hybrid buses, though cleaner and more energy efficient than pure diesel buses, still produce harmful diesel exhaust and are not as energy efficient as full-electric buses.
While electric vehicles require periodic battery recharging, the buses are available in alternative designs that offer a selection of recharging times and mileage ranges between charges. By strategically assigning these buses to appropriate transit routes, recharging times can be integrated into bus schedules without disruption to passenger service.
It should also be noted that electric vehicles use almost no electricity while idling at bus stops or red lights.
Maintenance costs for electric buses are typically 40 percent lower than for diesel buses due to fewer moving parts. Other benefits include lower noise levels and a smoother ride for passengers.
Electric buses are a prudent financial investment for the NFTA because the higher initial purchase price would be more than offset by lower fuel and maintenance costs. The total expense over the life of the vehicle would therefore be lower than for a conventional bus. There would also be reductions in public health costs because of reduced pollution.
Electricity prices have historically been much more stable and predictable than gasoline prices. Accordingly, transit operating budgets can be forecast more accurately with a fleet of electric buses.
New York State is considering the allocation of funds from the Volkswagen emissions settlement to defray the purchase price of electric buses. Other federal and state funding grants may also be available.
Electric buses are now becoming common throughout the United States. Approximately 38 transit systems include electric buses in their fleets. Another 30 agencies have ordered electric buses for the first time, including agencies in Rochester and other cities comparable to Buffalo. Our region deserves to share in this clean energy technology so that residents and the NFTA benefit from the
environmental, health and economic advantages.
Robert A. Krohn, of Amherst, is a retired transportation engineer and a Sierra Club member.