Electric transit buses are becoming increasingly common sights on US streets. A new report from clean transport consultancy CALSTART found that there are some 5,480 full-size zero-emission buses in operation in the US—an increase of 66 percent since 2021—and another 859 in Canada.
The entire US fleet of full-size transit buses numbered about 72,700 in in 2019.
Federal incentives and—particularly in California—state programs have been a major enabler for transit agencies to phase out fossil fuel-burning buses. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which became law in November of 2021, has made historic levels of funding available. In 2022, more than $1.6 billion was allocated to 150 transit fleets throughout the US through the FTA’s Low and No Emission Grants and the Bus and Bus Facilities Grants.
“The federal incentive has been a significant benefit, and will continue to be,” said Jarrett Stoltzfus, Senior Director of Government Relations and Public Policy at electric bus OEM Proterra.
Stoltzfus added that battery-electric buses are proving far more popular with transit agencies than hydrogen fuel cell buses. In 2022, there were about 5,269 battery-electric buses in operation or on the way, along with 211 fuel cell buses.
Hydrogen buses have the advantage of longer range, but the gap is shrinking as BEV technology continues to improve. Drawbacks of hydrogen include a lack of refueling infrastructure, and above all, costs.
“The cost of a hydrogen fuel cell bus is quite a bit higher on average,” said Stoltzfus. “There’s a use case where hydrogen makes sense, but we found with the vast majority of transit customers…battery-electric is the only player.”
However, Mike Hynes, Electric Bus Program Manager at CALSTART, said, “A transit agency must weigh many factors and ultimately make the choice that is right for them. It is reasonable to think that some agencies may deploy both technologies.”
California remains the centerpiece of the electric bus market, with nearly 2,000 e-buses in use by transit agencies.