San Francisco is joining other world cities in moving toward a zero emissions public transportation fleet. Last week, the city and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced that all public buses operating in the city will be electric no later than 2035. To achieve that goal, new buses purchased in 2025 and thereafter will be battery operated. Reaching that goal will require a significant expansion of SFMTA’s charging infrastructure
If you have never been to The City By The Bay, you may not be aware how hilly it is. John Haley, SFMTA’s Transit Director says in a press release, “While the battery technology is emerging rapidly, it isn’t quite ready for prime time. Manufacturers aren’t yet producing the number of all-electric buses San Francisco and other urban areas would need, nor could we guarantee that the vehicles would work for the required 15 years with heavy ridership and challenging topography.”
SFMTA has been taking steps to lower the carbon footprint of its fleet for more than a decade. Many of its newer buses are diesel electric hybrids. It also uses biodiesel fuel exclusively for all its diesel powered vehicles. About 50% of the electricity needed to power its light rail, cable cars, and electric trolleys comes from hydro power generated in the Hetch Hetchy area of Yosemite National Park. It is working to create Green Zones within the city where its hybrid buses can operate in electric mode most of the time, reducing carbon emissions in those areas to nearly zero.
“Muni’s transit system is the cornerstone of our city’s environmentally sustainable transportation system and is one of the greenest in the world,” says Ed Reiskin, SFMTA’s director of transportation. “Our efforts to take our fleet to the next level won’t only make for better and more efficient service, but they will continue the work we are doing to be one of the cleanest fleets in the country and improve rider experience.” Beginning next year, the transportation agency will begin testing electric buses in revenue service in advance of placing its first orders in 2025. SFMTA has yet to announce which manufacturers will supply those buses.
The transportation sector accounts for nearly half of all carbon emissions created in the city — most from private cars and commercial trucks. One quarter of all trips within the city each year are taken on public transportation, yet the Muni fleet today contributes only 2% of all the city’s carbon emissions. Some might wish for San Francisco to move faster toward an all-electric bus fleet but progress often comes one step at a time. City buses typically have a useful life of 12 to 15 years, which means once SFMTA begins ordering only electric buses, it will take that long for them to replace all the existing buses in its fleet.