The University of Maryland Department of Transportation applied for federal grant funding this month to transition from diesel to electric buses as part of an effort to go emission-free by 2035.
The Federal Transit Authority will award grants to projects that look to purchase zero and low-emission buses and fund parts of their infrastructure such as recharging facilities and training opportunities. The grants come from two federal programs: the Low-No Emission Grant Program and the Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Program.
“We believe we’re putting something together that will be very, very competitive for this money,” DOTS director David Allen said during a Graduate Student Government meeting on March 17.
In its grant application, DOTS requested funding for battery-powered electric buses, charging stations and infrastructure construction that would create space to charge buses onsite. The department also requested funds for workforce development to train drivers and maintenance staff to use electric vehicles.
The maximum amount of funding the grant can provide is 85 percent of the net project cost. The department would need to cover the rest. Each standard diesel bus costs the university approximately $500,000, while an electric bus would cost just under $1.1 million.
By fiscal year 2025, this university will have 36 buses that reach the age where they become eligible for replacement. If they’re awarded the grant, DOTS will phase out all of those buses and replace them with electric ones — a step Allen said will contribute to the university’s goal of electrifying its entire vehicle fleet.
“For an operator, it will be a challenge to have all of your buses basically aging at the same rate, but I’m willing to take that chance if we’re able to get this grant,” Allen said.
The transit authority will announce the final selections on their website within 75 days after the deadline, which was April 13.
In 2021, university President Darryll Pines announced that the university was committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2025 and having an all-electric vehicle fleet by 2035. The grant would allow the university to accelerate its plans by a few years, according to Pines.
“What’s really fortunate in this federal program is that we can actually write a proposal that may allow us to do pilot investigations of vehicles, buses, other vehicles that are electric and infrastructure that we can get paid for by the federal government,” Pines told The Diamondback.
This project will help reduce fuel use, greenhouse gas emissions and other pollutants emitted by the current diesel buses, according to a statement from this university.
The grant application has received support from local government officials in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, along with student organizations like the SGA, the Graduate Student Government and the RHA.
Katherine-Aria Close, a senior environmental science and policy and studio art major, is the founder and leader of LEAFhouse Cooperative, a student organization focused on sustainability networking and projects.
Close said this grant is something worth pursuing. The emission rate decrease the buses could provide is especially needed given ongoing construction at this university, she added. Close also hopes DOTS will recycle, repurpose or donate the old buses if they receive the grant, instead of sending them to a landfill.
“I think it’ll just give more students peace of mind, knowing that when they take the bus, not only is it public transportation, so it’s reducing their [environmental] impact in that way, but even that public transportation is leaving a smaller impact on their community,” she said.