My View: Plan to replace diesel buses merits praise
Oregonians have overwhelmingly embraced clean energy and climate action. Just a week ago, voters elected multiple champions at the state and local level, and the Portland Clean Energy initiative passed by a wide margin.
We applaud TriMet for also stepping up and committing to transform its polluting diesel fleet to modern electric buses. This commitment includes buying at least 80 new electric buses in the next five years.
Our transportation sector helps us commute to school, to work and to play, pray and shop. But there's no doubt that tailpipe pollution makes up the most significant barrier to attaining Oregon's climate goals. The transportation of goods and people creates more climate pollution in Oregon than any other sector, nearly 40 percent of carbon emissions.
Thanks to TriMet, the Portland region already is ninth in ridership per capita nationwide. The more people take transit, the better for the climate, as taking transit reduces a person's carbon footprint by about 33 percent. But with a fleet of nearly 700 diesel buses, TriMet is the biggest purchaser and user of diesel fuel in Oregon, and is planning to double its bus fleet in the coming years.
That's why investing in improved transit service — with broader coverage, increased frequency and reliability, and electric buses — is critical to providing riders with essential access to get around without polluting the air. As Oregon's electricity grid eliminates coal generation and becomes powered mostly by carbon-free energy in the coming years, the climate benefits of electric buses will continue to increase.
Electric buses also protect our health because they don't produce dangerous particulate matter, nitrogen oxides or other toxic air pollutants at the tailpipe. With diesel pollution levels above state benchmarks, especially near the homes of low-income and community of color families, we cheer TriMet's commitment to prioritize the deployment of clean electric buses on routes that serve these communities first.
Further, electric buses are quickly becoming the industry standard. Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts that in seven years, half of the world's buses will be electric. This trend is catching on in the United States as well, where many large and small transit agencies are shifting to electric buses, from Seattle to New York to Los Angeles.
In Oregon, SMART in Wilsonville is not only purchasing electric buses but also seeking to power its charging infrastructure with solar power.
Why? They're already cheaper than diesel buses over the life of the bus, thanks to lower costs for fuel, maintenance, and operation. Within the next seven years, experts have projected costs to further drop by another 50 percent because of technological innovations, which makes the transition to electrification even more fiscally prudent.
We thank TriMet and its partner transit agencies across the United States and around the globe for committing to reduce their own emissions so that others are encouraged to follow. Knitted together, the actions of many will change the world.
Meredith Connolly is Oregon director of Climate Solutions. Chris Hagerbaumer is deputy director of Oregon Environmental Council.