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Pittsburgh Regional Transit pledges to eliminate tailpipe emissions from its fleet by 2045

PRT_Pittsburgh Regional Transit_bus_kk.jpg
Kiley Koscinski
90.5 WESA
Pittsburgh Regional Transit has six electric buses today, with another 15 slated to arrive for Allegheny County's Bus Rapid Transit project. A spokesperson said the agency has installed two fast charging stations at its East Liberty garage with support from Duquesne Light Co.

Allegheny County’s public transportation agency, Pittsburgh Regional Transit, announced Wednesday that it will completely replace its diesel fleet with greener buses by 2045. It plans to ramp up its investment in zero-tailpipe emissions buses in the next three years, with the goal of purchasing only the cleaner buses after 2032.

PRT estimates it will spend about $1 billion on the program over the next two decades, likely with support from the federal government. PRT CEO Katharine Kelleman said her agency will replace its existing vehicles as they reach the end of their 12-year lifespan.

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“This timeline allows us [not only] to begin transitioning to electric buses, but [also to work] on the charging infrastructure and making sure that we can scale up for the support necessary to keep running these vehicles, training our employees, and continuing to invest in other technologies,” she said.

She said the initiative will build on the environmental benefits of public transportation.

“While transit greatly reduces the amount of carbon dioxide by removing thousands of cars off the road every day, and today's diesel fuel buses are cleaner than ever,” she said, “our vehicles still do produce greenhouse gasses that can be eliminated through the adoption of zero emission vehicles.”

Leaders across the globe have vowed to cut heat-trapping carbon emissions in a bid to ward off further warming of the planet and associated extreme weather events. The director of Allegheny County’s Department of Health, Dr. Debra Bogen, said policies such PRT’s would improve the well-being of local residents.

“Just think about all of our young residents, many of whom rely on the PRT to get to school, to work and recreation,” she said. “PRT replacing its current fleet with zero-emissions vehicles will have a positive effect on our region's air quality and will improve the health of not only our young children but all of us.”

Today, six of PRT’s 730 buses run on electricity, and the agency has ordered 15 additional electric vehicles for its Bus Rapid Transit project, according to Kelleman. Often called the BRT, the project will include 24 new stations and exclusive bus lanes to connect riders between Downtown Pittsburgh and Oakland better. Construction on the Downtown phase is expected to begin next spring.

A spokesperson said PRT has already installed two fast charging stations at its East Liberty garage with support from Duquesne Light Co.

PRT said in a statement Wednesday that it will continue to deploy more battery-electric buses. But it also plans to evaluate hydrogen fuel cell options and other alternative energy technologies.

PRT staff will present a full report to PRT board members later this month on the shift to a zero-tailpipe emissions fleet.

The initiative comes as PRT continues to struggle with a driver shortage. In June, the agency cut service by 4% to reduce the frequency of rides on less-used routes while shifting more buses to busier corridors.

An-Li Herring is a reporter for 90.5 WESA, with a focus on economic policy, local government, and the courts. She previously interned for NPR Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg in Washington, DC, and the investigations team at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. A Pittsburgh native, An-Li completed her undergraduate studies at the University of Michigan and earned her law degree from Stanford University. She can be reached at aherring@wesa.fm.