BOSTON (SHNS) – The state announced this month that it will use the remaining Volkswagen emissions cheating scandal settlement funds towards electrifying Regional Transit Authority bus fleets.
Massachusetts received $75 million as part of a 2017 national settlement stemming from Volkswagen’s use of devices designed to produce fraudulent emission results for certain vehicles. Massachusetts residents owned or leased about 15,000 of the affected vehicles that emitted smog-causing pollutants at excessive levels, according to the state.
The Department of Environmental Protection, which was responsible for creating a plan to distribute the dollars, aimed to use the money to fund projects that reduce greenhouse gas emissions by cutting transportation sector pollution and promoting the electrification of the state’s transportation network.
The most recent allocation of $26.8 million to the Cape Ann Transit Authority, Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority, Montachusett Regional Transit Authority and Southeastern Regional Transit Authority add to the $48.8 million the DEP has allocated to RTA electric transit buses and charging stations since 2017.
In 2019, the DEP spent $22 million of settlement funds on electrifying the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority, Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority and Greater Attleboro Taunton Regional Transit Authority. The GATRA and PVTA may also be eligible to receive some funds in this round, depending on actual bus and charger costs for the other RTAs.
In addition to steering $26.8 million toward electrification infrastructure at RTAs, the DEP is directing $7.5 million on proposals to implement other projects allowed in the settlement terms, which could include buying new electric buses. The department also earmarked $50,000 in administrative funds.
Six years after the VW case, this plan will spend the final dollars from Massachusetts’ settlement fund.
But for RTAs, funding is just one piece of the electrification puzzle.
“A lot of the infrastructure for electrification is now seeing really long lead times. When we built our first facility … where our operation center is, our switchgear for that equipment was $135,000. Eighteen months later, the price was $500,000 for a smaller amount of switchgear. The lead time was 10 to 12 weeks when we got it the first time, the second time, I still don’t have it and it was due six months ago,” Martha’s Vineyard Transit Authority Administrator Angela Grant said at an RTA Council meeting on Wednesday.
Other members of the council added that long lead times for electric bus deliveries combined with higher prices made it easy to “fall back on” purchasing diesel buses.
The Department of Transportation is planning to hire a consultant to help RTAs with the process of transitioning to electric vehicles, and Gov. Maura Healey’s Climate Chief Melissa Hoffer has identified the issue as a priority to make good on the administration’s promise to fully electrify public transportation with clean power by 2040.
The House on Wednesday was in the process of debating a fiscal year 2024 budget proposal that would dedicate $70 million toward regional transit funding and rail electrification grants.