The board that governs the New Orleans Regional Transit Authority is pressing pause on plans for buying costly electric buses, citing limited funding and calls from riders for more bus service in general.
Traditional diesel-powered vehicles are cheaper than battery-powered buses, so the agency can provide more of them for a given amount of money, which would help beef up a fleet badly in need of upgrades.
Thus, a recommendation from Transdev — the private firm that runs the RTA’s operations — to pursue federal funding for eight electric buses at a cost of $9 million was ignored by board members at a meeting last week.
The federal grant program that would have largely funded those buses has an application deadline of Aug. 6.
“The timeline on the bus grant is so tight that we didn’t have a chance to do our due diligence to make an informed discussion,” Flozell Daniels, the RTA board chairman, said in an interview.
Meanwhile, he said, “The public has said, ‘All of this is great, but we just want more buses, and we want the buses that should be replaced to be replaced.’ "
The RTA will instead pursue buying 17 diesel-fueled buses now and look again at electric buses later.
The agency has pondered introducing battery-powered buses as New Orleans officials have made a commitment to cut carbon emissions in the city in half by 2030. That plan specifically asked the transit agency to evaluate those buses’ potential.
Electric buses are also a component of the RTA’s long-term strategic mobility plan, which officials unveiled late last year.
But the push to go green comes as most of the RTA’s traditional buses — nearly all of which had to be replaced after Hurricane Katrina — are at or nearing the end of their useful lives, roughly 10 to 12 years.
Meanwhile, the agency is providing only half of the bus and streetcar service it offered before Katrina, according to the transit advocacy group RIDE New Orleans. That group’s data also show that the region went from having 19 high-frequency transit lines — those with vehicles arriving every 15 minutes or less — before the 2005 storm to only five such lines today.
The $6.3 million grant Transdev wanted to apply for would have paid for much of the cost of adding eight electric buses on two lines, while the RTA would have had to come up with the rest.
Although diesel buses cost a little more than half as much as electric buses, the data Transdev gathered showed that the electric buses would have saved the RTA money over time.
The RTA could still pursue the greener vehicles in the future, Daniels and Alex Posorske of RIDE said, after it ensures that its fleet is well-maintained and robust right now.
“We are going to make this a 21st-century transportation agency,” Daniels said. “It’s going to take a while, but we are going to get it done.”