Illinois needs a strong plan to electrify public transit
By Pam Tate and Kim Stone
Since most capital investment has been put on hold by our transit agencies, due to the pandemic, members of our chapter’s Task Force for Electrifying Public Transit believe the time is now for the State of Illinois and transit agencies to commit to electrification.
As you know, climate change is an urgent issue that must be addressed, and our window of opportunity to avoid the worst impacts is closing quickly — within the next nine years. Transportation is now the top source of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and the time is right for Illinois to take the lead on creating the infrastructure to set us on a path to zero emissions.
Every bus purchased by transit agencies is used for at least 12 years. We simply cannot afford to lock ourselves into another 12 plus years of fossil fuel infrastructure for our transit system.
Electrifying public transit would also improve our local air quality. All the collar counties in the Chicago region have earned an F for air quality from the American Lung Association.
To advance electrification, the task force has been working with the Illinois Environmental Council and state legislators and has proposed the following set of recommendations.
— State and federal grants —
Many of the state and federal grants available provide funds for low OR no emissions buses. Since electric buses cost more upfront, and transit agencies have limited funds from their capital budgets, our transit agencies have purchased compressed natural gas-fueled (CNG) vehicles instead of electric.
Restrict the use of these grants to only no emissions vehicles, or create a zero emissions goal/standard for the state that includes transit agencies.
— Electric buses —
While electric buses will save money over the life of the vehicle (reduced operating and maintenance costs), these cost savings are currently not taken into account since capital and operating budgets are separate.
Change budgeting methods within transit agencies to require that the life cycle cost of the vehicle be considered in making capital investments.
— Charging infrastructure and
fuel efficiency standards —
Charging infrastructure is needed for electric buses. While EV charging stations cost less than the fueling infrastructure needed for CNG or diesel buses, transit agencies will not invest in charging infrastructure unless they know that the state is committed to electrification in the long-term, and utilities will not invest until the cost of building the infrastructure is built into their rate base.
Illinois should become a Zero Emissions Vehicle (ZEV) state. The Illinois Commerce Commission should be encouraged to change its rate base design to incentivize electric charging infrastructure for public transit and cars. In addition, the governor should sign the Multi-State-Medium-and-Heavy-Duty Zero Emission Vehicle Memorandum of Understanding,* which has been signed by 15 governors and the District of Columbia*. These actions would signify a commitment to electrification of vehicles and would provide assurance to transit agencies and private companies so that they would invest in EV charging infrastructure in Illinois.
*The memorandum, which seeks to develop a plan to foster a “self-sustaining market for zero-emission medium- and heavy-duty vehicles,” has been signed by the governors of California, Colorado, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington, and the District of Columbia.
— CEJA —
The re-introduced Clean Energy Jobs Act includes incentives for electrification, but there are many barriers to be overcome before this bill is passed.
Since CEJA is the only clean energy bill before the legislature that will make the utility companies accountable, we urge its passage.
Kim Stone has served as a councilwoman for the City of Highland Park since May 2013 and co-chairs Go Green Illinois. She has over 20 years of environment and management experience, having previously worked at the Midwest Pesticide Action Center, Great Lakes Protection Fund, and Environmental Law and Policy Center.
Pamela Tate is currently Chair of the Campaigns Committee for the Chicago Chapter of Climate Reality Chicago. After over 30 years as the CEO of a national educational non-profit, she decided to devote her life to the climate crisis and has been an active advocate since being trained by the Climate Reality Project in 2019.