By, Eric McCarthy, SVP, Government Relations, Public Policy and Legal Affairs, Proterra
Just over two years ago, Foothill Transit, providing bus service in California’s San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys, announced that it would transition its entire bus fleet of over 300 transit buses to battery-electric by 2030. Since then, major cities and transit agencies across North America have made similar pledges, and Bloomberg New Energy Finance forecasts that electric transit buses will make up 80 percent of the global municipal bus fleets by 2040. Like any technology advancement or market success story, it’s taken a confluence of factors to reach this inflection point in the industry: lithium-ion battery prices have dropped by nearly 80 percent over the last decade, vehicle range has significantly increased (with the Proterra Catalyst® driving 1,101 miles on a single charge last September on a test track), electric drivetrain performance has reached a point where it’s simply better in every performance category than combustion engine technology, and the environmental and public health benefits of zero-emission transit have become a driver of community procurement decisions.
Early regulatory incentives in the United States and Canada have played an instrumental role in growing the battery-electric bus market in North America. For example, in Canada, the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund (PTIF), with $3.4 billion CAN in available funding, will help accelerate municipal transit investments while also improving the customer experience. PTIF, along with the Ontario’s GHG Challenge Fund, recently helped fund Toronto Transit Commission’s electric bus program. British Columbia expanded its Clean Energy Vehicle Program, which now provides an incentive up to $6,000 for the purchase of a zero-emission vehicle, and Quebec’s Climate Change Action Plan, which prioritizes electrification as a sustainable mode of transport, now accounts for over 50% of the EVs on Canadian roads today. Furthermore, the Quebec and Ontario Cap-and-Trade Systems are linked with California’s Cap-and-Trade Regulation, allowing carbon emission allowances to be used for compliance interchangeably across jurisdictions. Additionally, the Canadian Urban Transit Research & Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC) is leading several commercialization projects, including the Pan-Canadian Electric Bus Demonstration & Integration Trial, to advance zero-emission transit technology across a dozen Canadian transit agencies by 2022.
Similarly, federal and state EV incentives in the United States have helped spur the market for electric transit buses. In the U.S., the single biggest accelerant in the heavy-duty space the past several years has been the Federal Transit Administration’s Low or No Emission Vehicle Program (49 U.S.C. § 5339c), funded at $55 million US annually as part of the FAST Act (and increased by $29.45 million US for FY 2018). Additionally, numerous state voucher incentive programs, including the Chicago Drive Clean Truck Program, NY Truck Voucher Incentive Program, Maryland Freedom Fleet Voucher Program and California’s Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP), have helped fund electric bus purchases. Most notably, this year, the California Air Resources Board will vote on the Innovative Clean Transit (ICT) measure, which would mandate the transition to zero-emission transit vehicles among California transit agencies by 2040. Further, the Massachusetts Senate has unanimously endorsed a new bill that would end diesel fueled public transportation vehicles and potentially raise over $450 million per year in investments in clean transit. Lastly, and as a direct result of the settlement that Volkswagen reached with the U.S. EPA and California over its “defeat devices,” every state Beneficiary will receive VW settlement funds, which will help fund hundreds of zero-emission bus purchases in California, Georgia, Rhode Island and beyond.
The United States was certainly an early leader in promoting advanced transportation technologies by implementing and funding the Low-No Program, which has helped deploy more than 200 electric buses in the United States since 2013. But Canadian metros may soon eclipse many American cities in ZEB adoption, especially now that the industry is well past the early adopter phase. Heavy-duty electric drivetrain technology for transit is commercially proven with millions of miles of revenue service. And the economic and environmental benefits are significant. As a result, major Canadian metros are issuing RFPs for zero-emission buses. Toronto Transit Commission, the third largest transit agency in North America, plans to transition its entire fleet of approximately 2,000 buses to zero-emission buses by 2040, and recently ordered 30 electric buses from three manufacturers. Edmonton Transit Service is finalizing its first purchase of BEBs and plans to buy only electric buses beginning in 2020. In October 2017 Vancouver joined eleven other major cities around the world in a pledge to only purchase electric buses beginning in 2025. And the Société de transport de Montréal has a goal to reach zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2040, which includes replacing its bus fleet.
The growing list of North American cities procuring zero-emission transit buses is difficult to ignore. And imagining a diesel-free transit future is becoming more of a reality each week as more and more municipal fleets, including Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco, choose battery-electric buses to better serve their communities. It’s a historical time to be in public transit, but the industry wouldn’t be where it is today without the spark that the aforementioned regulatory measures have provided. It is no surprise that municipal agencies across North America are committing to 100% zero-emission fleets after experiencing firsthand the superior pricing, technology and environmental/health benefits of these vehicles, and it is these agencies that will continue to drive a cleaner innovative transit market for years to come.
 Ontario premier-designate Doug Ford has vowed to dismantle Ontario’s Cap-and-Trade Program.