Photo via Maryland Transit Administration/Facebook

Maryland is joining a growing movement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from public transit. 

The Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration (MDOT MTA) yesterday announced a plan to transition to a zero-emission bus fleet, scheduled for launch in 2023.

The plan is designed to meet Maryland’s new Zero-Emission Bus Transition Act, which prohibits the MTA from purchasing buses that are not zero-emission beginning in 2023.

The agency has committed to converting 50 percent of its bus fleet to zero-emission by 2030, without service interruptions. 

The transition will begin with seven new battery electric 40-foot and 60-foot buses at the agency’s Kirk Division, with other divisions to follow suit in the coming years.

“We’re proud to continue our commitment to sustainability and reduce the agency’s carbon footprint,” MTA administrator Holly Arnold said in a news release.

“Zero emission buses are a win-win for the citizens of Maryland who get to enjoy cleaner air while knowing their transit agency is doing its part to address climate change,” she said.

The agency projects that about 500 million pounds of carbon dioxide emissions will be avoided through use of electric buses instead of diesel between 2025 and 2030. 

MTA local bus ridership – including CityLink, LocalLink, and Express BusLink –  ranges from 5 to 6 million per month, although it has decreased to an average of roughly 3 million per month during the pandemic. 

According to the EPA, the transportation sector is one of the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., accounting for the largest portion of emissions – 29 percent – in 2019. 

Zero-emission public buses are gaining popularity throughout the country, as local governments continue to push to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

Los Angeles – a city notorious for traffic and smog –  began running its first zero-emission metro bus line in October. 

And Washington, D.C. has begun a similar transition, with a commitment to shift to a 100 percent zero-emission metro bus fleet by 2045. 

The MTA’s transition will begin with battery-electric buses, and the agency will continue to monitor developments in hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. 

Hydrogen fuel cell vehicles, similar to electric vehicles, use an electric motor instead of an internal combustion engine.

But unlike electric vehicles, fuel cell vehicles don’t need to be plugged in to charge, as they generate their electricity onboard. 

To purchase the zero-emission buses, the MTA will utilize grant funding from the Low or No Emission Vehicle Program from the Federal Transit Administration, and the Volkswagen Settlement.

“The phased conversion of MDOT MTA’s bus fleet to clean, efficient, zero-emissions buses is a critical element of our systemwide modernization,” Maryland Department of Transportation secretary Greg Slater said in a news release.

“We’re using technology and innovation to improve service, operations, connectivity and the rider experience,” he said, “Zero-emission buses serve that mission, and also advance Maryland’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.”