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CTA, Metra, and Pace Accelerating Efforts to Electrify Fleets

July 31, 2023

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Riding public transit is one of the most sustainable modes of travel, and the transit system is one of the strongest tools our region has in the fight against climate change. Transit reduces personal vehicle trips, lowering emissions and improving regional air quality. The RTA included a commitment to accelerate the transition to a zero-emission regional transit system and prioritize communities burdened by poor air quality in Transit is the Answer. Both Pace and CTA have committed to full electrification of their bus fleets by 2040 via their respective transition plans, Project Zero and Charging Forward, and Metra is looking for opportunities to implement zero-emission locomotives.

In line with these commitments, the Illinois General Assembly recently passed legislation requiring all bus purchases to be zero emission vehicles after 2026. The CTA currently has 25 electric buses in its fleet with 22 additional buses in procurement, and three of its seven existing bus garages are now equipped with some charging facilities for electric buses. Pace secured its first electric bus in November 2022 and ordered 20 more for delivery expected in early 2024. These important steps forward in procurement are complicated by continued volatility in the EV manufacturing industry as companies struggle with profitability, the latest example being Proterra’s recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing.

Full scale implementation of the agencies’ transition plans will require extensive resources, and there are many barriers to navigate in transitioning their fleets and installing and retrofitting existing infrastructure.

The costs of zero emission buses can present significant hurdles to greening transit fleets. At approximately $1.2 million per battery-electric bus and 2,500 buses in the fleet, the total estimated cost to replace all diesel buses between the CTA and Pace is over $3 billion. Another option, hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, are typically at least $200,000 more expensive than battery-electric options. For context, based on a recent CTA diesel bus purchase of 7900-Series 40-foot diesel buses, and adjusted for inflation to August 2022, the average cost for a diesel bus is approximately $600,000 per bus. Workforce training is also needed for maintenance workers and operators of the vehicles to ensure the safety of both passengers and employees. While stable state and federal capital funding levels in recent years have been welcome, they are not enough to address the long-term project backlog, stay competitive and reliable for today’s travelers, and run cleaner vehicles that produce fewer emissions.

Despite these challenges, the Service Boards have had significant wins in securing grant funding for fleet electrification. The Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) recently released their draft recommended program for Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Improvement funding, which includes over $169 million for zero-emissions locomotives for Metra and over $68 million for electric buses and chargers for the CTA. Pace received Community Project funding from the Chicago area Congressional delegation to purchase 5 electric paratransit buses and 2 electric buses. The Service Boards will continue to be aggressive in pursuing grant funding to help the region meet its climate and environmental justice goals.

Throughout this process, the RTA will continue to develop cost projections for full electrification of the regional transit system and ensure coordination between the Service Boards so that they can take advantage of efficiencies where available and provide stewardship of the significant capital dollars needed for the transition. To electrify the system, additional improvements will need to be made to garages and bus facilities, and the workforce will need to be trained to use this new technology. The federal and state governments have stepped up to begin providing initial investments in electrification, but more funding will be needed to expedite the transition to a cleaner future. The RTA looks forward to continuing to communicate to stakeholders and the public the acute need for sustained capital investment to both maintain and improve the system.

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Tagged in: CTA | Metra | Pace | RTA | Capital Programming

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