Friday, November 6, 2015

Polar Shift to Electric Buses from Diesel Coming in Pinellas County

It’s the beginning of the end of the era of dirty diesel as Pinellas County's transit board recognizes that the future of transit is electric.

With 35 Pinellas residents wearing bright green stickers that read: Zero Emission Buses NOW! We Can’t Afford NOT To!”, a polar shift from diesel to zero emission electric buses took place Wednesday, October 28, at the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority’s (PSTA) board meeting. Although the board voted 8-7 to buy seven new diesel hybrid buses, it also voted unanimously for a six-month study of electric buses. Several board members stated that a shift to electric buses is the future of transit in Pinellas County, a densely populated coastal community that is at risk for more economic damage from climate change than any other in Florida.

The polar shift from diesel to electric that occurred in the past two months was a result of Sierra Club’s intensive public engagement campaign. Sierra Club staff and activists met with the majority of board members prior to the board meeting. As a direct result of Sierra Club advocacy, the new plan to purchase diesel-only buses has been scrapped.

Instead, the board voted to fully study all electric bus options during the next six months. Even Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch, who voted to buy diesel hybrid buses instead of zero emission ones, called electric buses “inevitable … this is the future.”

The PSTA board also directed staff to begin work with Proterra, the nation’s leading bus manufacturer, to develop a “Lo-No” federal grant application to buy 6-10 electric buses. The grant application, which will face stiff competition from numerous transit agencies across the U.S., is due November 23. Sierra Club pledged to work to build support in the community that would be served by the Proterra buses.

Electric bus interest peaking across Florida

Pinellas County’s new interest in electric buses is not unique. Tallahassee’s StarMetro agency has been operating 5 of Proterra’s electric buses for the past 3 years, and now other Florida transit agencies are  also looking into how these new buses can help any agency meet its goals to reduce expenses and emissions. BYD, a global leader in electric buses based in China, demonstrated its bus for PSTA on September 14 after appearing at Sierra Club’s St. Pete Drive Electric Day EVent.  While PSTA declined BYD’s’s offer to let the agency test its bus on routes for a week, that offer was accepted last month by Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

Here’s Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez speaking on October 9th about his belief that the future of transit in Miami-Dade County is electric:

In addition to Pinellas and Miami-Dade, Orange and Alachua counties are now also seriously considering adding zero emission buses to their fleets. Florida State University, whose students have been riding electric buses for years across Tallahassee, is considering buying its own for campus transport. Orlando theme parks Disney and Universal are also in the market for electric buses to whisk their visitors between attractions. The electric buses would replace diesel buses that, while they provide a convenient service that allows tourists to park their cars for days during their stay, create an unhealthy situation for families with children with asthma forced to breathe diesel fumes as they wait to catch a bus.

-- Phil Compton, Florida Healthy Air Campaign, Sierra Club