Thanks to an $18 million share of a large government settlement with German car manufacturer Volkswagen, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority will acquire 60 all-electric buses.
“Volkswagen lied and pumped extra pollution into Florida’s air, so they had to pay up. We went after a share of that money to reduce future pollution and continue PSTA’s leadership in sustainability,” PSTA CEO Brad Miller said during a Nov. 1 bus unveiling alongside Florida Department of Environmental Protection officials.
In 2016, as part of a plea deal, Volkswagen agreed to pay $4.3 billion in penalties to settle allegations of cheating emissions tests and deceiving customers. As a result, Florida received $156 million.
The new funding allows PSTA to retire dozens of diesel buses and replace them with the new zero-emission electric buses from California-based manufacturer Gillig.
PSTA, which currently operates 80 hybrid buses, plans to put 14 new electric buses on the road by the end of 2024. Over the next three years, PSTA will acquire all 60 buses.
“It’s been a long time coming. When I started here 12 years ago, the PSTA board was debating whether or not to get a hybrid electric bus. We only had diesel buses at the time. When we got our first hybrid, there was lots of debate on that – whether it would work and battery range,” Miller said. “As we move into the zero-emissions [space], it demonstrates to the community that public transportation can be an environmentally safe transit solution.”
The electric buses, which can seat up to 38 people, are environmentally sustainable as each one cuts carbon emissions by 135 tons per year. It also will help PSTA save $20,000 in annual operational costs, and 11 million gallons in diesel fuel over the life of the traditional vehicles.
An electric bus can travel 250 miles on a single charge.
“It’s getting closer to the range we get with a tank of diesel fuel,” Miller said.
The buses will be charged overnight at PSTA’s headquarters. PSTA plans to add solar panels to its campus that can generate power for the vehicles during an emergency.
The new 40-foot buses are arriving as PSTA is working with the City of Clearwater to build a new $44.5 million downtown transit center, replacing the current facility. The green-energy transit hub will also be outfitted with solar panels and electric bus-charging stations.
“Right now, the 40-year-old dilapidated transit center doesn’t have any of our electric hybrid buses, because the roof is too low for them,” Miller said. “Because of the batteries [located on the top of the bus].”