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Air Quality

Published on May 7th, 2016 | by Cynthia Shahan

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Philadelphia Makes Largest Transit Investment In Zero-Emission Buses In US Northeast

May 7th, 2016 by  


Nowhere is it more necessary to hasten the transition to electric vehicles than with buses. Sitting on a bus should not induce headaches from diesel exhaust blowing in the back of the bus. One automatically holds one’s breath to avoid air on and off the bus. Consider the bicyclists and pedestrians as a bus travels by.

Metro.us reports that Philadelphia will experience the largest transit agency investment in zero-emission buses in the US Northeast, according to Gina Coplon-Newfield, director of the Sierra Club’s electric vehicles initiative. Philadelphia is a walkable city already, but cleaning up the buses will be a help for walkability as well. Even as Philly leads, it seems this transition to electric mass-transit should have come at the bicentennial along with the fireworks.

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Philadelphians are smiling as SEPTA leads this vast East Coast city bringing electric buses to its fleets.

It is a given that mass transit is a key to a lighter footprint and not so many endless highways with large cars. To clean up the bus ride to make it environmentally well is also a primary health concern.

Metro.us continues that SEPTA in Philly is going electric just on routes 29 and 79. Hopefully it expands the clean electric routes quickly.

“We have one of the greenest bus fleets in the country,” said SEPTA deputy general manager Rich Burnfield, citing that more than half of Philly buses are hybrids. “With 25 electric buses, this is a real opportunity to pilot those vehicles. I think it will be a great enhancement for the Authority, for our customers and for the residents.”

Philadelphians are hopeful in anticipation of their cleaner travels and air freshening, as SEPTA adds 25 zero-emissions electric buses to roll along the 29 and 79 bus routes in South Philly, the home of the famous tomato pie. (Have you ever seen those long lines for tomato pie in South Philly?)

“I’m super pumped!” said Jen Hombach, a Morris Street resident – where the 29 bus travels – and environmental activist with 350 Philly.

“The electric buses would be such a difference,” she said. “If I want to walk to the shops at Columbus Commons, now I won’t have to deal with breathing the fumes when the bus is rolling that way.”

The grant is about $2.5 million. “SEPTA will be buying 40-foot Proterra Catalysts, which can carry 77 passengers, similar to current buses.”

The buses, if futuristic, are also brilliantly simple. The thing is with electric vehicles, simplicity reigns. This year, all the EV work necessary for the EV I drive was rotating my tires and considering a new filter to filter out everyone else’s fumes.

An earlier story by EV Obsession explains that Proterra buses have an average fuel economy roughly 4 times higher than that of baseline CNG buses.

Speaking of the “disruptive” effect of EVs on the traditional combustion-engine vehicle market, Proterra CEO Ryan Popple finds, “It’s quite possible that combustion vehicles become entirely extinct within the next five to 10 years because of the cost deficiency.” Hopefully there is a similarity to exponentially growth in solar that some expect.

Related Stories:

NREL: Proterra Electric Buses Possess Average Fuel Economy Roughly 4 Times Higher Than That Of CNG Baseline Buses

St. Albert To Deploy Fleet Of BYD Electric Buses

New Flyer Completes 1,800 Electric Bus Passenger Rides, 1,150 Miles

Image by Proterra





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About the Author

is a Mother, an Organic Farmer, Licensed Acupuncturist, Anthropology Studies, and mother of four unconditionally loving spirits, teachers, and environmentally conscious beings who have lit the way for me for decades.



  • Michael B

    If it works, is easy to use, and you can explain/sell it to potential investors, you will receive your funding. I’d start by giving up comment sections!

  • Michael B

    > Do you think that householders will still pay through the nose for electricity from the grid when for say £10,000 to £15,000 they could generate their own as well as hydrogen for cooking(?)

    ~10 years of pre-installed, no-thought, one-month-at-a-time electricity vs paying for/financing a product which involves head-aches, complications and learning a speculative new technology? Yeah, I think they will.

  • Michael B

    > Do you think that householders will still pay through the nose for electricity from the grid when for say £10,000 to £15,000 they could generate their own as well as hydrogen for cooking(?)

    ~10 years of pre-installed, no-thought, one-month-at-a-time electricity vs paying for/financing a product which involves head-aches, complications and learning a speculative new technology? Yeah, I think they will.

  • kclo3

    This is also the same agency that can’t be bothered to improve its Route 15 trolley service to basic international standards, so they’re forced to supplement the schedule with diesel buses.

  • Robert Middleswarth

    Well 2 routes makes sense. The 2 bus routes go all electric they only have to install chargers in those 2 places. If they work out well they will like migrate more and more routes over starting with the shorter inner city routes that will be cheaper to convert. Doing the more suburban longer routes to the end.

  • Charles Alvin Scott

    So when the extender engine is running what is coming out of the exhaust apart from heat that is.. These vehicles may well have Low-carbon emissions but Zero emissions only applies to Electric Vehicles which only recharge from renewable generated electricity

    • Philip W

      Ofcourse hybrid busses also have emissions when the engine is running. But overall the fuel usage should be lower as a lot of energy from breaking every few meters can be recovered.

      • JamesWimberley

        What is the case for a hybrid bus? The idea for a car is that you use the battery round town and the range extender on longer weekend or work trips, which won’t be planned long in advance. City buses have known schedules and routes – most of the routes in Paris and London are half a century old at least. Either you have a battery big enough to cover the routes, and BYD and Proterra already offer these, or you are planning on urban pollution.

        For a while, there is a case for hybrids in the far less numerous intercity buses/coaches, which may do 500 miles in a day. But since they also have known stops, a bus fast charger network could be quite sparse. The charges would need a lot of juice.

        • Philip W

          Tell that to the cities, I fully agree with you.

        • Freddy D

          Hybrid buses have the lowest total cost of owership, at least according to a golden gate transit study comparing BEV, hybrid, natural gas, and conventional diesel. If the BEV bus manufacturers bring prices down, then the BEV would have the lowest TCO. These agencies are super financially sensitive and are generally only buying a few BEVs for compliance. Clearly it’s the future when prices improve.

    • JamesWimberley

      Sadiq Khan also includes hydrogen FCEVs, which strongly suggests he is poorly briefed. Water doesn’t count as an emission, so hydrogen buses are quite literally vapourware.

    • scott whitaker

      That’s true, and definitely an issue where I live in southwest Virginia where still most electricity is generated by coal and where coal used to rule. However, that is no longer the case. In ’05, 74% of the electricity produced/purchased by Appalachian Power was generated by coal. Today it is estimated that 60% is coal generated and by 2025 it will be below 50%. Additionally, the company has begun purchasing wind generated electricity and is interested in buying more due to the lower cost. In the ideal scenario, the coal plants would be shut down and be replaced by wind, solar and water would. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen.

  • sjc_1

    CNG buses are used in cities, make them CNG hybrid save even more.

    • Mike333

      CNG poisons your water with fracking.

      • Michael B

        Alas, a lot of electricity that charges our batteries is produced by fracked NG, too. Even in EV-friendly California, I’m afraid. So don’t be too quick to dis CNG…

        Oh, and that poisoned and reclaimed water can be used in agriculture, too. Even to grow “organic” crops.

        Be sure to write Jerry Brown and thank him for his anti-fracking stance and policies. /s

  • JamesWimberley

    It’s tragic that an order for 25 electric buses by a large city counts as record-breaking news. Chinese cities order by the hundreds. Cities can decide today: no new ICE buses, full stop. Then the managers work out the phasing.

    The newly elected mayor of London, Sadiq Khan (Labour, also Muslim) wants London to be ordering only zero-emission buses – by 2020. That’s not leadership either.

    • Mike

      Im still waiting patiently to see one of the first few byd electric double deckers in London. Mind you I’m driving my leaf from west M25 across the whole centre of London stopping at Buckingam palace and cary on to east London twice a day 5 days a week… And i still havent seen any… But ive noticed a lot of new volvo doublestinkers diesel bullbrid busses … What do we need those for? They are driving around wast majority of the time EMPTY (with less than 2 travelers per deck)…. New mayor all electric by 2020? Is he selling it as his idea? As that comes from Boris as a solution to force from eu to avoid heavy penalties for being years behind in polution norms.

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