CAMDEN — John Boyle is looking forward to quieter rides on New Jersey Transit.
But he and other commuters will have to wait a bit longer for the rollout of electric buses.
The pilot program’s eight buses will now be coming to Camden routes before the end of this year, with the first set to arrive this spring and the remaining seven carrying passengers by the fall. The bidding process was delayed early last year to encourage competition among more prospective supply contractors, according to NJ Transit spokesman Jim Smith.
Still, riders and officials are excited about what it could mean for clean energy initiatives.
In October, NJ Transit awarded a $9.4 million contract for the 40-foot long electric buses to New Flyer of America and earlier awarded a $3.2 million contract to Scalfo Electric of Vineland to upgrade and install an electric recharging station at the Newton Avenue bus garage in Camden. Officials for both companies could not be immediately reached for comment.
Boyle, an Edgewater Park resident, takes his bike onto buses and rail lines both for leisure and to travel to his job in Philadelphia as research director for the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia.
“New Jersey Transit’s (diesel) fleet is old and the buses have very poor suspension. I have ridden new electric buses elsewhere and found them to be very quiet. New buses will also mean a more comfortable ride,” said Boyle.
Bus rider Joe Russell, a software engineer from Collingswood who also works in Philly, called the pending introduction of electric buses “a huge win for the regional environment and the health of city residents.”
“As South Jersey’s transit hub, a vast array of bus routes converge on the Walter Rand Transportation Center in Camden or pass through it on their way to Philadelphia. This subjects residents to pollution associated with all of those buses coming through the city most hours of the day,” he continued.
Camden was initially selected for the pilot project because its topography and bus route lengths are suitable for assessing electric bus technology, NJ Transit said. Officials have said mitigating environmental damage and risks to health from vehicle emissions in vulnerable cities like Camden also played a role in choosing the city for the initial rollout.
A 4.8-mile corridor in Newark is the second region to be targeted by NJ Transit for transition to electric buses.
A 2020 state law requires zero-emissions vehicles to make up at least 10 percent of new bus purchases by year-end 2024, a figure expected to rise to 50 percent by the end of year 2026 and to 100 percent by 2032.
“Camden has an African-American and Hispanic majority and those populations frequently suffer more instances of pollution-related ailments such as asthma, so this will be a positive change from an environmental justice standpoint,” said Russell.
The cost of the eight buses mostly will be covered by $8 million in funds provided by Volkswagen, which settled a lawsuit with the state over alleged fraud and clean-air violations, and some grant money.
The transit agency has said “limited deployment” of electric buses will allow it to study the vehicles “in a real-world setting.”
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NJ Transit has committed to transitioning to a 100% zero-emissions bus fleet by 2040 in alignment with Gov. Phil Murphy’s energy master plan.
“We are in the midst of transforming our mass transit system into a more sustainable and environmentally friendly solution to mitigate the impacts of climate change,” said New Jersey Department of Transportation Commissioner and NJ Transit Board Chair Diane Gutierrez-Scaccetti said last fall in announcing the bid award.
When NJ Transit’s Board of Directors approved the $9.4 million contract last year it did so with another five percent for contingencies, a provision to deliver the buses within a year of October 2021 and an option allowing the purchase of 75 more, zero-emission buses.
One of the advocate organizations of electric buses is the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which focuses on the New York, Connecticut, New Jersey and the Greater Philadelphia region.
“NJ Transit has an aging bus fleet and needs to invest in new equipment to ensure they are safe for the riders and reliable,” said Janna Chernetz,Tri-State deputy director and its director of New Jersey policy.
She said reduction of emissions also is a priority and that it would help communities like Camden that are negatively affected by emissions from vehicles.
“Thirty-three percent of kids in city schools suffer from asthma because there is a strong correlation between the proximity of major highways and traffic congestion from buses and other vehicles,’ she said.
Previously, Corbett has warned about moving too rapidly on electric buses, which are still a relatively new technology with some problems to resolve.
Carol Comegno loves telling stories about South Jersey life, history and military veterans for the Courier Post, Burlington County Times and The Daily Journal. If you have a story to share, call her at 856-486-2473 or email [email protected]
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