Reducing carbon emissions and reliance on fossil fuels has never been more important, and increasing transit use is one of the strongest tools we have in the fight against climate change. In the United States, exhaust from cars, trucks, and planes is the single biggest source of carbon dioxide emissions—the largest contributing factor to climate change (United States Environmental Protection Agency). Public transportation offers our region the greatest opportunity to reduce carbon emissions through mode shift. For example, a standard bus is able to remove 31 cars from the road, while one CTA railcar can remove 36 and one Metra railcar can remove 83 (U.S. Department of Transportation Federal Highway Administration’s Summary of Travel Trends, 2017). Bus emissions per passenger mile are 33 percent lower than cars, and passenger trains are 76 percent lower, according to the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Transit Means Business report from 2018.
Aside from the importance of riding transit itself, the RTA wanted to take Earth Week to recognize the efforts of CTA, Metra, and Pace to improve the sustainability of their modes by converting to electric fleets and exploring other climate-friendly actions. To learn more, representatives from CTA and Pace will present to the RTA Board of Directors at 9:00 a.m. on Thursday, April 21. Livestream the meeting here, and read on for a summary of the CTA, Metra, and Pace’s work toward a greener region.
The CTA has committed to an all-electric bus fleet by 2040 under a Chicago City Council resolution passed in 2019. Purchasing new all-electric buses is only one part of the equation. To operate and support a fleet of eBuses also requires extensive charging infrastructure and significant electrical power upgrades across the service area. To help guide its conversion efforts, in February 2022 the agency released Charging Forward, a comprehensive strategic planning study that lays out exactly how the CTA will meet this goal.
The CTA has been at the forefront of the shift to electric bus technology since their first two electric buses entered service in 2014, making them one of the first transit agencies in the country to run electric buses in revenue service. Today, 11 electric buses are in service, and altogether the CTA expects to have 25 in service by the middle of this year. This rollout centers equity by placing the electric buses in routes along the South and West sides—areas of the city with the worst air quality.
Metra is working to convert three older diesel locomotives to zero-emission battery power, making them one of the first in the industry to explore this new technology. This move will reduce nitrogen oxide emissions by more than 100 tons per year and particulate matter emission by more than 2 tons per year. Metra is also seeking to buy low-emission and zero-emission switch engines and will soon issue an RFP for eight battery-powered, zero-emission trainsets.
In addition to greener locomotives, Metra is celebrating Earth Day this year with a week of clean-ups and tree and wildflower plantings along Metra lines. From Monday, April 18, through Earth Day on Friday, April 22, Metra employees will be out across Metra-owned lines cleaning along the tracks and working with community groups to plant wildflowers and trees at various locations on Metra property. Cleanup and gardening activities will be taking place along the Rock Island Line, the Metra Electric Line and the Milwaukee District North and West lines. All activities take place from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. A complete schedule of activities can be found here.
Pace has been a nationwide leader in exploring alternative fuels and reducing emissions. The agency has committed to being zero emission by 2040 as part of its new strategic plan, Driving Innovation, adopted in September 2021. In fact, zero emission fleet transition is listed as the agency’s top goal in the plan. As part of the plan, Pace has committed to buying no diesel buses in its 5-Year Capital Plan with $50 million programmed for electric bus purchases.
Like the CTA, Pace is centering equity in its electric bus rollout. Minority and lower-income communities who have experienced disparate air pollution and other environmental health hazards will be the first to see electric buses on the road, improving public health and quality of life for those who have been most negatively impacted by poor air quality. As part of Pace’s 2040 zero-emissions goal, Waukegan’s bus fleet will be entirely electric by 2026.
Pace’s March 2022 Board of Directors meeting included the approval of the agency’s first order of battery-electric buses—20 vehicles and accompanying charging infrastructure—as well as Pace’s participation in the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) two-year Racial Equity Commitment Pilot Program. Pace’s April 2022 meeting saw the announcement of an electric vehicle lease that will allow the agency to begin testing a battery-electric bus in their service area in May of 2022.