SEPTA moving to zero emissions future

SEPTA officials say they can’t go all battery buses for now but are eliminating the remaining all diesel buses for hybrids.

A SEPTA bus approaches City Hall in a bus lane.

A SEPTA bus approaches City Hall in a bus lane. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

SEPTA is working to move to a zero-emission fleet. In an effort to bridge the time when an all-electric fleet is in place, the transit agency has authorized the purchase of more diesel-electric hybrid buses.

SEPTA’s Andrew Busch said they are entering into a two-year contract to replace the remaining diesel-only buses in the fleet with diesel-electric hybrids.

“It’s between 100 and 120 buses every year that SEPTA has to replace,” said Busch. “We have to keep that going but, in the meantime, we’re studying different ways to work electric buses in the fleet.”

The purchase is designed to help the agency become greener. “We’re going to all be hybrids at the end of this,” said Busch. “So that’s a big improvement to our efforts to make the system more sustainable.”

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The decision to do only a two-year contract instead of the transit agency’s usual five-year purchase has the purpose of giving them time to look into alternative fuels such as battery power for future bus buys, Busch said.

The utility did purchase its first group of 25 all-electric buses in 2019, but pulled them in 2020, after only about 6 months of service.

“They were pulled because we noticed cracking in the buses and SEPTA’s concern is that could indicate a structural issue with the buses.”

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A fix for the issue is being tested and Busch said they are working with the manufacturer for compensation for lost revenue from the more than $20 million purchase.

The agency does have all-electric vehicles. They run trackless trolleys, buses that connect to overhead wires on two routes, and the subway-surface lines that run under Center City into West Philadelphia. An effort is underway to use federal funds to make two stations fully accessible and modernized.

Busch could not give a date when they will reach their zero-emission goal.

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