Central Valley Invests in Clean Buses, Clean Air

In California, we’re headed toward a clean transportation future — and our buses are helping take us there.

Across the state, millions of Californians depend on buses operated by more than 100 public transit districts to get to work, school, medical appointments, houses of worship, and recreational activities. One state policy is giving transit providers throughout the state a helping hand in ensuring a smooth ride for passengers: the Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS). In fact, LCFS has emerged as one of California’s top tools to bring zero-emission electric vehicles to disadvantaged communities, in the form of affordable transit service.

 Here in the Central Valley, the San Joaquin Regional Transit District operates a fleet of 130 buses and serves four million riders per year in Stockton and beyond, while Visalia Transit has a fleet of 84 buses and transports 1.6 million riders annually. Both transit agencies have taken advantage of LCFS to begin shifting toward cleaner fleets. RTD currently has two all-electric buses in service and anticipates having 17 in operation by next year. More than two-thirds of Visalia Transit’s bus fleet operates on natural gas as it shifts towards a cleaner fleet.

LCFS, approved in 2009 and most recently readopted in 2015, is on track to reduce the carbon intensity of transportation fuels by at least 10 percent by 2020. Statewide, LCFS has resulted in $1.6 billion in avoided public health impacts while helping Californians avoid the unnecessary use of 6.6 billion gallons of petroleum.

The benefits of cleaner public transit, encouraged by LCFS, are many. Clean buses improve local air quality and reduce harmful transportation pollution for everyone, even those who don’t ride the bus. The transportation sector alone is responsible for 40 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, 80 percent of smog-causing nitrogen oxide emissions, and 95 percent of particulate matter emissions that cause cancer and other lung and heart diseases. Our region’s struggles with air pollution are well known and continue to pose a threat to our well-being. We are proud to serve a ridership that is predominantly low-income and majority Latino. This means LCFS provides cleaner air for everyone, and gives transit options to some of the most disadvantaged residents in our communities.

For transit providers, LCFS credits help offset operating costs. It’s invaluable because other regional, state, or federal funds are generally limited to capital costs. Visalia Transit alone has saved $150,000 per year on fuel thanks to LCFS. Without this program, the agency would face an additional 10 to 15 percent in fuel costs, which might force the agency to make some tough decisions. Visalia Transit provides several popular routes including the V-Line, which connects Fresno to Visalia with stops at Fresno State, the Fresno and Visalia airports, and downtown Fresno. Another popular route brings visitors to experience the wonder of Sequoia National Park. RTD is planning to launch an electrified Stockton bus rapid transit route with 10- to 15-minute headways. At the downtown transit center, drivers can fully charge buses in less than 10 minutes. Passengers like that these buses are quiet and zero-emission — and since LCFS has prevented 23 million tons of carbon pollution statewide, we’re doing our part on climate change, too.

Without policies like LCFS, our current level of service with clean vehicles wouldn’t be possible. When policymakers affirm their support for effective policies like LCFS, it contributes to a climate of certainty that helps transit agencies do effective long-range planning.

LCFS is giving us the tools to tackle air pollution and improve public health while supporting good California jobs. As the fuel standard has inspired a 36 percent uptick in the use of clean fuels statewide, it’s undoubtedly getting the job done. Connecting our communities and providing top-notch service is our priority, and that’s why we support and depend on the Low Carbon Fuel Standard.

— Donna DeMartino is CEO and general manager of San Joaquin Regional Transit District. Mario Cifuentez is interim transit manager of Visalia Transit.

Central Valley Invests in Clean Buses, Clean Air, by Donna DeMartino and Mario Cifuentez, The Record, May 3, 2017.

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