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Fed funds to spur electronic conversion of Del. transit

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U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks about investment in zero-emission vehicles on Friday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

WILMINGTON – U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg arrived in Delaware via an Amtrak train Friday as part of the Biden administration’s efforts to tout the local impact of the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) passed last year.

Delaware is expected to receive more than $1.6 billion from the BIL via its funding formula – more funding is available through competitive grant programs – to address highways, bridges, public transportation and electric vehicle infrastructure, while also benefiting from more than $100 billion dedicated to Amtrak projects primarily in the Northeast region.

Buttigieg, a former mayor of South Bend, Ind., and Democratic presidential nominee, drew a crowd to the DART First State headquarters in Wilmington, where he touted the five-year, $186 million investment into public transit projects in Delaware.

“We’re here to illustrate what President Biden’s vision for building a better America looks like,” the Cabinet secretary said.

While U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg talks about investment in zero-emission vehicles, an outdated diesel DART bus passes over Interstate 95 on Friday. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

While the U.S. Department of Transportation strives to convince more Americans to utilize public transit, thereby lessening congestion on roads and reducing air pollution from emissions, it also recognizes that outdated diesel buses are contributing significantly to the latter issue. Buttigieg previewed an impending announcement next week by the federal government of a grant program to fund the purchase of low or no emission buses for public transit, primarily by using electric fuel cell buses like those rolled out by DART in recent years.

“Thanks to this infrastructure bill, we now have $1.1 billion for low and no-emission vehicles, and that is about six times more than was available just last year. That’s going to make an enormous difference in moving forward toward where we need to be in regard to climate,” Buttigieg said. “We always talk about climate in terms of the consequences if we fail, and rightly so because they are dire, but this is also a good time and place to talk about what we stand to gain by getting it right. This is an opportunity to break the old false narrative that suggested there was a choice between climate and jobs.”

The secretary noted that for transit agencies to receive grants under this zero-emission bus program, they will be required to put forward a plan showing how they are going to support and train and retain their employees. Most agencies will be required to use 5% of their grant funding toward those workforce development efforts.

“We’re putting dollars behind funding for the first time to make sure that skilled operators and mechanics working today on diesel buses are prepared to be the electric transit workforce of tomorrow,” he told the crowd, which included a large number of DART employees. “And the president, just yesterday in the Cabinet meeting, reiterated this priority one more time: These vehicles need to be built and manufactured right here in the United States of America.”

DART has used federal grants to convert 26 buses to zero-emission models over the past several years. | DBT PHOTO BY JACOB OWENS

While home to President Biden, the First State was also highlighted by the federal department due to its prior work in converting its DART bus fleet. Four federal grants worth $9.1 million awarded to the state over the past few years have already converted 26 buses to electric- or propane-powered ones, or about 10% of the state’s fleet.

“We have already reduced greenhouse gas emissions by over 25,000 metric tons, but this is just the beginning,” Delaware Transportation Secretary Nicole Majeski said.

The appearance by Buttigieg came less than a day after Gov. John Carney announced that he is moving Delaware to join 13 states in adopting California’s zero-emission vehicle (ZEV) regulations, which would require Delaware auto dealerships to bring an increasing number of battery-electric, plug-in hybrid and fuel cell electric vehicles to the state for sale. Implementation of the regulations would not take place until 2026 to provide manufacturers with time to adjust their inventories and prepare dealerships. There are currently at least 45 ZEV models available to customers in the United States, and over 1.5 million ZEVs have been sold nationwide.

The auto industry has reportedly kept pace with the mandate in other states, and it has helped drive consumer adoption of electric vehicles. Leading manufacturers like General Motors and Ford are increasingly turning their attention to build so-called EVs.

“We couldn’t be more ready for the resources that you’re bringing to us today,” Carney told Buttigieg on Friday.

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