RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that the Commonwealth of Virginia will invest $14 million, or 15 percent, of the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust to fund the deployment of all-electric transit buses across Virginia. Governor Northam made the announcement during remarks at the Governor’s Transportation Conference and Innovation Summit in Norfolk today. The four-day conference is the annual gathering of transportation professionals in the Commonwealth.
“Electric transportation is a critical part of our climate strategy to reduce pollution and advance the clean economy,” said Governor Ralph Northam. “This funding will support the move to 21st century transit and help make Virginia an even better place to live, work, play, start a business, and raise a family.”
“Not only does this program help ensure transit projects can provide the safe and reliable services our citizens deserve,” said Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine, “but it also makes public transit in Virginia environmentally sustainable and cost-effective for years to come.”
The Virginia Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), designated lead agency acting on the state’s behalf to implement Virginia’s allocation ($93.6 million) from the settlement, will provide funding through a new Clean Transportation Voucher Program to replace heavy and medium-duty polluting vehicles with cleaner vehicles. The project will be submitted through the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation’s annual public transportation capital grant cycle known as MERIT (Making Efficient and Responsible Investments in Transit), which begins December 1, 2018, and runs through February 1, 2019.
Earlier this year, the electric vehicle charging station company EVgo was awarded a contract to develop a statewide public electric vehicle charging network. Together, these two funding announcements account for 30 percent of Virginia’s total allocation from the settlement, a significant investment in the transition toward electric transportation and cleaner air.
This second round of funding will serve as an important proof of concept and raise awareness of the availability of electric buses to serve transit agency needs. The goal of the program is to provide enough funding to cover the incremental cost of transitioning from new diesel buses to new all-electric buses.
The Department of General Services (DGS) will soon be adding electric buses to the statewide contract for transit buses. This type of joint procurement decreases administrative and contract costs for local governments and transit agencies. In fact, some transit agencies have already started moving toward electric buses, such as Hampton Roads Transit.
While electric vehicles have no tailpipe emissions, their carbon footprint is dependent on the electricity grid that charges them. On average, electric vehicles in Virginia produce 70 percent fewer carbon emissions than their gasoline-powered counterparts, according to data from the U.S. Department of Energy. A study earlier this year by the Union of Concerned Scientists rated Virginia as one of the best places for electric buses based on carbon pollution. Diesel buses emit 200-300 percent more carbon pollution than electric buses in Virginia.
“Electric buses provide significant public benefit compared to their diesel counterparts,” said Secretary of Natural Resources Matthew Strickler. “Reduced air pollution from this investment will lead to better health outcomes for Virginia and reduced carbon emissions that contribute to global climate change.”
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has identified diesel exhaust from sources such as transit buses as a major factor in the urban air pollution that disproportionately affects low-income and disadvantaged communities. Electric buses have zero tailpipe emissions and provide clean air benefits to communities that have historically borne a greater burden of fossil fuel pollution.
MERIT, DRPT’s project-based prioritization process for statewide transit capital funding was recently approved by the Commonwealth Transportation Board (CTB). This prioritization is part of a series of public transit reforms mandated by the 2018 Virginia General Assembly. MERIT will ensure core state-of-good-repair projects, such as replacing or rehabilitating bus fleets based upon their age and mileage, are made the highest priority for state funds and are eligible to have 68 percent of project costs covered by the Commonwealth. The Volkswagen settlement funds, in turn, ensure that local transit agencies can replace their fleets with modern, high-efficiency vehicles, while maintaining the local minimum 4 percent required match.
Following comprehensive review and analysis of all funding requests, DRPT will submit a recommended list of projects for the CTB to prioritize under the new MERIT metrics, including these projects eligible for Volkswagen settlement funding. The CTB will make final project funding allocations at its June meeting next year.