Delaware officials want to make riding the bus ‘sexy’ with new electric fleet

Delaware receivee a $2.6 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Transportation to purchase or lease zero-emission and low-emission transit buses. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

Delaware receivee a $2.6 million grant award from the U.S. Department of Transportation to purchase or lease zero-emission and low-emission transit buses. (Zoë Read/WHYY)

In an effort to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, Delaware will use a $2.6 million federal grant to purchase zero-emission transit buses.

This is the third grant — totaling $5.6 million — the state has received from the Federal Transit Administration’s Low or No Emission Bus and Bus Facilities grant program to buy electric buses.

Dover already has six electric buses in its fleet. The state plans to add 20 more of them across the state by early 2021, including eight for New Castle County expected later this year and two for the beach areas early next year.

The state’s Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan said the electric buses also will include amenity upgrades, including an automatic wheelchair-securing feature. No longer will passengers who use wheelchairs have to rely on the bus driver to make sure they stay in place during the ride.

Cohan hopes these upgrades will encourage more people to take public transportation, reducing their carbon footprint.

“We want to make it sexy to ride the bus,” Cohan said. “It has to be cool, it has to be clean, it has to be convenient. The biggest thing we hear is it has got to have free Wi-Fi, so we’re making all that happen.”

Each bus costs $850,000 to $950,000, with the state of Delaware paying 20% after the federal grant dollars.

Electric buses are four to five times more energy efficient than traditional buses, according to the Delaware Transit Corporation. They get 150 to 200 miles per charge and also have lower maintenance costs than buses that run on diesel fuel.

Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester and US Sen Tom Carper toured an electric bus, which also feature improved accessibility (Zoë Read/WHYY)

“Our beaches are affected by this climate crisis. Our farmers are affected by this climate crisis. We have communities in the city of Wilmington like Southbridge that are experiencing record flooding,” said Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester during Tuesday’s announcement of the federal funding. “So this is something that touches all of us, our environment, and whether we keep it healthy, safe, and beautiful.”

It’s crucial that the state transition to a fully electric bus fleet, Cohan said, but there are some infrastructure challenges along the way.

“You can have all the electric buses you want, but if you have no place to charge them, they’re not going to be good,” she said. “But we’re working with our federal partnerships with funding because it’s a significant investment and without those federal grants we wouldn’t be able to do what we’re doing now.”

Gov. John Carney said Delaware has made great strides in improving the environment, but still has a way to go.

He touted the state’s joining of the U.S. Climate Alliance, a bipartisan coalition of governors committed to upholding the goals of the Paris Agreement. In 2017, President Donald Trump announced his intention to remove the U.S. from that deal, which directs countries to take steps to mitigate global warming and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Carney also pushed for the passing of legislation, which aims to get 40% of Delaware’s energy from renewable sources by 2035.

While the state has worked to convert most of its coal fired electric power to natural gas, Carney said there needs to be more progress in the area of transportation.

“Scientists will tell us the greatest threat we have to the planet is global climate change,” he said. “As one of the lowest lying states in the union, Delaware is at greater risk than most places, particularly along the coast.”

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