Rock Region Metro has been awarded $4.9 million in federal funds to purchase five electric buses and charging infrastructure, which will make it the first in the state to operate zero-emission public transit.
The grant puts the Central Arkansas transit agency ahead of schedule for its goal of phasing out diesel buses by 2025, something the agency says will reduce fuel costs and mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.
"Rock Region Metro provides Arkansans with reliable transportation to get to work and other necessary appointments," U.S. Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., said in a release. "This investment will strengthen transit services while supporting our environment."
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention promotes transitioning public transit fleets to cleaner energy and reports that diesel emissions can adversely affect health. It states evidence shows reducing people's exposure to soot can decrease the risk of mortality, heart attacks and hospitalizations for heart disease.
Exposure to diesel pollution contributes to 27,000 heart attacks, 14,500 hospitalizations and 2.4 million lost work days each year, according to the Clean Air Task force.
The Environmental Protection Agency has reported each federal dollar invested in clean diesel projects generates between $5 to $21 in savings.
Rock Region Metro, the state's largest public transit agency, serves Little Rock, North Little Rock and Pulaski County with about 1,600 stops in the system and 49 buses at its peak prior to the pandemic, Becca Green, Metro spokesperson, said Monday.
The electric buses, made by Proterra, are expected to join the fleet during the spring or winter of 2023 and are capable of traveling 345 miles daily, the release said.
The Proterra buses will join 31 compressed natural gas buses and 10 or fewer diesel buses.
"The grant means Metro will more than likely reach its goal of phasing out diesel-fueled buses entirely by the end of 2025 even earlier than anticipated," the release said. "Perhaps by 2023 or 2024, as additional bus purchases are made."
Metro was awarded $3.5 million in Federal Transit Administration funds in 2018 to purchase seven compressed natural gas buses.
"Compressed natural gas buses burn cleaner than diesel-fueled buses, and battery electric buses offer the ability to avoid total reliance on fossil fuels to operate service," Green said. "With the charging life of the electric bus batteries, Metro expects to reduce fuel expenses once these buses are in service."
Green said electric buses also will help Central Arkansas meet its air quality standards by reducing fossil fuel emissions and removing other vehicles from service.
The grant was received via the support of Boozman, U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark, U.S. Congressman French Hill, R-Ark., Metroplan Executive Director Tab Townsell and Little Rock Mayor Frank Scott.
"This grant will improve the efficiency of the vehicles 2.5 million Arkansans rely on each year while also investing in our local workforce," Hill said in the release. "I am proud of our state's teamwork and was pleased to support this grant submission on behalf of Rock Region Metro."