Allegheny County’s transition to electric buses depends on finding more money

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As bouts of extreme weather show the urgent threat of climate change, the Port Authority of Allegheny County looks to a future without fossil fuels. But so far, out of a fleet of 714 buses, only two are electric.

By the end of 2023, Port Authority’s fleet will be about 2% electric. This isn’t for a lack of support for the vehicles. It’s about money.

“It certainly is slow going, and if the funds are available, we certainly would hope to move quicker on that,” Port Authority spokesman Adam Brandolph said. “But that’s a big if.”

Faster adoption will only come with a lot more local, state or federal funding, possibly as part of a $3.5 trillion budget bill before Congress. In the meantime, some transit advocates have pointed out improving service with current diesel buses could also help if it convinced more residents to stop using cars.

The Port Authority regularly buys new buses, primarily to replace old ones, but electric buses cost about a half a million dollars more than a standard diesel bus. Still, electric buses require less maintenance, often making them substantially more cost-effective, according to the United States Public Interest Group.

“I think our goal, certainly, is to move toward a [fossil] fuel-free fleet by 2045, and, absolutely, if we can get it done sooner, we certainly will,” Brandolph said.

‘Light on details’

Penn Environment Deputy Director Ashleigh Deemer warns that the timeline to properly address climate change is only becoming tighter. In fact, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres called a recent UN study on climate change “code red for humanity.”

Deemer said that climate science puts 2050 as the “absolute” latest point to transition off of fossil fuels. Government agencies should really be taking a lead on this issue, she said. “They shouldn’t be the last entity to be getting off of fossil fuels.”

In her view, Port Authority’s goal of canceling fossil fuel emissions by 2045 is “light on details.”

“We think there needs to be some interim goals to make sure that we are well on our way to zero emissions within their stated timeframe,” Deemer said. “Because if you don’t start now, this all starts to get away from us.”

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