American cities have long known that buses and trucks burning diesel fuel are a significant source of air pollution and contribute to global warming and climate change. Unfortunately, simply getting rid of diesel-fueled vehicles has never been an economically viable option.


However, the United States is now “at a tipping point,” said Andy Darrell. He is the strategy chief for Global Energy & Finance. Darrell said that the time has arrived when zero-emission vehicles are cost-competitive compared with standard internal combustion engines. That, combined with increasing public demand that action be taken on environmental matters, has brought American cities to the cusp of change.


Replacing buses and trucks with green electric vehicles will require finding ways to unlock private capital investment for the infrastructure needed to support eco-friendly buses and trucks, Darrell said. The real solution will almost certainly be a combination of private investment combined with considerable government-funded support.


Several cities across America have already launched pilot programs. One example is Seneca, South Carolina, a city of just over 8,000 residents. Three years ago, it became the first city in the world to launch an all-electric municipal bus fleet. Seneca’s bus system is operated by Clemson Area Transit (CAT). This organization is responsible for public transit in five cities and four college campuses.


The successful Seneca experiment with an all-electric bus fleet is a partnership between the city of Senaca, the quasi-public entity of CAT, the South Carolina Department of Transportation, and the federal government. The latter recently supplied a $4.1 million grant. This demonstrates the kind of cooperation and consortium of entities required to achieve large-scale change in a city-wide busing system. It must be noted that Seneca has the advantage of being a small city. That made scaling up a city-wide system far easier.


A gigantic city like Chicago poses an enormously greater level of challenges.


Chicago is also attempting to move forward with a city-wide bus electrification program. The city has set a goal to have every bus be a carbon-neutral vehicle by the year 2040. They have a long way to go because just two all-electric buses are currently operating in a fleet of 1,800 standard transports.


Switching to electric buses in Chicago is a special challenge in another way because this is a cold-climate city. That means electric vehicles must be of a robust and superior design to remain reliable in frigid temperatures.