The goal of the US to achieve net- zero emissions by 2050 has brought the need to transition to electric buses into sharper focus. At present, the US has nearly 2,800 zero-emission buses (deployed and ordered), out of which 96 per cent are electric buses. Federal incentives have had a direct impact on the pace at which buses are being electrified in the US. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has been working since 2013 with public transportation providers to implement strategies that reduce greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector. Further, the Biden administration has expressed its intent to electrify the transportation sector, which is the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in the country. To this end, on March 31, 2021, the administration released a proposal for a USD2 trillion job and infrastructure plan for eight years. The proposal includes two plans, the American Jobs Plan and the Made in America Tax Plan. Box 1 provides details of the two plans.

Box 1: The American Jobs Plan and the Made in America Tax Plan 
The American Jobs Plan aims to create jobs and rebuild the country’s infrastructure. It calls for USD621 billion in transportation investment and is expected to double the federal investment in public transit. The plan includes USD174 billion for domestic investments in electric vehicle (EV) and battery manufacturing to facilitate the transition of 50,000 diesel transit buses to zero-emission bus technologies. It is also expected to increase EV manufacturing jobs, to boost the domestic EV market, to lay the foundations for a nationwide charging network (500,000 EV chargers 2030), and to electrify the federal fleet. The Made in America Tax Plan will provide funds for the American Jobs Plan, over a period of 15 years, by closing several corporate tax loopholes. Under the tax plan, the Biden administration plans to set the corporate tax rate at 28 per cent. Additionally, the plan will raise the global minimum tax rate to 21 per cent. The administration will encourage other countries to tax corporations appropriately to discourage the development of tax havens. The rule allowing US companies to pay zero taxes on the first 10 per cent of returns (for investments located in foreign countries) will also be eliminated. Lastly, subsidies for the fossil fuel industry will also be eliminated. 
Source: The White House

Current penetration

As of December 2020, the US has nearly 2,800 zero-emission buses (deployed and to be delivered), out of which over 2,700 are electric buses. Table 1 gives a detailed state-wise distribution of battery-electric buses in the US.

Table 1: Battery-electric bus distribution by state (deployed and to be delivered)

StateBattery-electric busesStateBattery-electric Buses
Colorado100New Jersey21
Connecticut16New Mexico37
Delaware20New York77
District of Columbia14North Carolina61
Illinois74Rhode Island24
Indiana48South Carolina32
Source: American Public Transit Association (APTA)

Programmes supporting deployment of electric buses

Federal grants have significantly helped transit operators procure electric buses. Almost every state in the US has a transit agency that currently owns or is planning to add new electric buses to its fleet. Between 2013 and 2020, the FTA has distributed over USD485 million for hybrid, battery-electric, and hydrogen fuel cell buses through the Low or No Emission Bus Programme. Box 2 outlines the main objectives of the programme.

Box 2: Low or No Emission Bus Programme
The main aim of FTA’s Low-No Programme is to support the transition of the transit fleet in the country to the lowest polluting and most energy-efficient transit vehicles. The programme aims to achieve its goal by: Providing funding to state and local governmental authorities for the purchase or lease of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses, including the acquisition, construction, and leasing of the required supporting facilities. Permitting recipients to use up to 0.5 per cent of the requested grant award for workforce development activities that are eligible under federal public transportation law and an additional 0.5 per cent to cover costs associated with training at the National Transit Institute.
Source: FTA

Volkswagen settlement fund

In 2016, Volkswagen agreed to spend USD14.9 billion to settle allegations of violating the Clean Air Act. The settlement funds will be used to purchase or modify vehicles, and to support national- and state-level projects to reduce carbon emissions. Figure 1 displays the break-up of the USD14.9 billion settlement funds.

Figure 1: Allocation of the Volkswagen settlement funds (USD billion)
Source: roushcleantech

A total of USD2 billion has been allocated towards the procurement of zero-emission vehicles, USD10 billion has been allocated towards vehicle buyback, and over USD2.8 billion has been allocated towards environmental mitigation projects that reduce nitrogen oxide emissions. The amount allocated towards environmental mitigation projects that reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide will be distributed between individual states depending on the number of Volkswagen vehicles that were originally sold in each state that were affected by the violation of the Clean Air Act. Figure 2 provides a snapshot of the amount allocated to each state under the Volkswagen settlement fund.

Figure 2: Snapshot of amount allocated to each state under the Volkswagen settlement fund
Source: roushcleantech

In January 2021, the Governor of New York announced plans to provide USD16.4 million in incentives for the expansion of electric bus usage amongst public transportation authorities under the Volkswagen settlement fund. Figure 3 lists the five public transport operators selected to receive the USD16.4 million.

Figure 3: Public transport operators selected to receive USD16.4 million
Source: Global Mass Transit Research

Under the programme, purchasers of new zero-emission electric transit buses are eligible to have 100 per cent of the incremental vehicle cost covered provided the buses are housed at bus depots or are operated on routes located within a half mile of a disadvantaged community. The five operators will use the funds to transition towards 100 per cent zero-emission fleets by 2035.                                                                       

California leads in electric bus deployment

The West Coast (Washington, Oregon, and California) is currently leading in the deployment of electric buses. The total number of electric buses (deployed and planned) in California alone constitutes  nearly 40 per cent of the total number of zero-emission buses (deployed and planned) in the US. The large-scale deployment of zero-emission buses in California can be attributed to the state’s goal  of converting 100 per cent of its transit buses to zero-emission buses by 2040, combined with adequate financial support provided by several government-funded programmes.

Some of the main programmes promoting the deployment of electric buses in California are given below.

California Energy Commission’s Clean Transportation Programme (Alternative and Renewable Fuel and Vehicle Technology Programme)

The programme invests USD100 million annually in a broad portfolio of transportation and fuel transportation projects across the state of California. The main aim of the programme is to support the adoption of cleaner transportation powered by alternative and renewable fuels.

California’s Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Programme (TIRCP)

The programme provides grants from the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Fund (GGRF) to fund transformative capital improvements that will modernise California’s intercity, commuter, and urban rail systems, as well as its bus and ferry transit systems, to significantly reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, the number of vehicle miles travelled, and congestion. The main objectives of the programme are: 

  • reduce greenhouse gas emissions;
  • expand and improve transit service to increase ridership;
  • integrate the rail service of the state’s various rail operations, including integration with the high-speed rail system; and
  • improve transit safety

The Secretary of the Transportation Agency (CalSTA) has delegated the authority for the administration of TIRCP to the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The Caltrans Division of Rail and Mass Transportation (DRMT) is administering the programme.  

The Innovative Clean Transit (ICT) regulation

In December 2018, the California Air Resources Board (CARB) approved the ICT regulation in the US. The regulation has set a state-wide goal for public transit agencies to transition to 100 per cent zero-emission bus fleets by 2040. The implementation of the newly adopted regulation is expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 19 million metric tons between 2020 and 2050, which is the equivalent of taking 4 million cars off the road.

Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP)

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has administered several state-funded grant programmes to encourage the deployment of zero-emission buses in California. The HVIP offers a point-of-sale discount on clean buses with zero scrappage requirements. The project provides point-of-sale price reductions for eligible electric buses for up to USD175,000. Each vehicle that receives an incentive is required to be operated in California for a minimum period of three years.

Recent developments

Several contracts have been awarded for the supply of battery-electric buses in the US since January 2021. BYD, New Flyer, Nova Bus, and Proterra are the four major suppliers of electric buses in the US. Table 2 provides details of the recent contracts awarded in 2021.

DateNo. of busesDetails
March 202111 battery-electric busesThe Lane Transit District (LTD) received an order for 11 40-foot ‘Xcelsior Charge’ battery-electric buses from New Flyer. The total cost of the buses and that of the ABB depot chargers is USD10.6 million. It is funded by the Low or No Emission Programme fund and by LTD general funds. LTD has announced plans to order an additional 19 electric buses by 2023.
March 2021Up to 15 all-electric busesThe Milwaukee County Transit System (MCTS) awarded a contract to Nova Bus to manufacture Milwaukee County’s first battery-electric buses. Nova Bus will manufacture up to 15 all-electric buses. The first 11 vehicles will be deployed on the upcoming East–West Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) line and four additional vehicles will be deployed on regular routes. The buses are expected to be delivered in summer 2022.
March 202110 battery-electric busesThe Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority (NFTA) awarded a USD10.1 million contract to New Flyer to supply 10 battery-electric buses. The order includes an option to purchase up to 140 additional buses over a period of five years. The first 10 buses will be delivered in 2022. NFTA aims to convert 25 per cent of its buses to electric buses by 2025 and 100 per cent by 2035.
January 20216 electric buses (with an option to purchase 45 additional buses)On January 8, 2021, New Flyer secured a contract from the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) to supply six electric buses. On January 27, 2021, MBTA exercised the option to purchase 45 additional 60-foot hybrid electric buses from New Flyer. MBTA has recently awarded several contracts to New Flyer to supply low- and zero-emission buses, including a 2020 contract to supply 60 ‘Xcelsior’ 40-foot hybrid electric buses, a 2019 contract to supply 194 ‘Xcelsior’ 40-foot hybrid electric buses, and a 2019 contract to supply five 60-foot battery-electric ‘Xcelsior Charge’ zero-emission buses.
January 202112 battery-electric buses (with an option to supply 63 additional buses)New Flyer secured contracts from the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) and the Port Authority of Allegheny County (PAAC) to supply Xcelsior Charge battery-electric buses. From CTDOT, New Flyer has secured a contract to supply 12 battery-electric buses.  The contract also includes an option to supply 63 additional buses within two years. For PAAC, New Flyer will supply six additional buses under a contract secured in 2019. The contract provides PAAC the options to purchase eight additional electric buses by 2024. The procurement of these buses has been supported by the US Department of Transportation’s (DOT’s) FTA. 
Table 2: Recent contracts awarded in the US (2021)
Source: Global Mass Transit Research

Table 3 provides details of other key recent developments, since January 2021, related to the deployment of electric buses and supporting infrastructure.

February 2021The California Energy Commission awarded Anaheim Transportation Network (ATN) a USD5 million grant to acquire charging stations, batteries, and other solar infrastructure to support ATN’s MicroGrid and zero-emission vehicle fleet.The grant has been provided as part of the California Energy Commission’s Clean Transportation Programme and will assist in the purchase, installation, and integration of ATN’s MicroGrid and solar charging infrastructure. AMPLY Power will manage the charging operations, including the system design, installation, equipment purchases, operations and maintenance.
February 2021New Jersey Transit (NJ Transit) released an RfP for the purchase of eight battery-electric buses, to be utilised as part of a limited deployment in Camden.
February 2021The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) received the delivery of two 40-foot battery-electric, zero-emission buses from Gillig.
Table 3: Other key recent developments pertaining to electric buses in the US (2021)

Recent electric bus pilots

Des Moines Area Regional Transit Authority (DART) electric bus pilot

In December 2020, DART started test runs on seven electric buses as a part of a pilot project. MidAmerican Energy has partnered with DART on a public–private partnership (PPP) basis to provide the local match for DART’s Low or No Emission Programme grant application with the FTA. DART will monitor how the buses operate in comparison to diesel buses, for a period of 12 months.

Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) electric bus pilot

In November 2020, OCTA approved the purchase of 10 plug-in battery-electric buses from New Flyer as a part of a pilot programme to assess passenger response in Orange County. The authority awarded New Flyer a USD10.4 million contract to supply the buses. Five of the 10 test buses are scheduled to run on a new Bravo route connecting Anaheim to South Coast Metro in Santa Ana. The other five test buses will operate throughout Orange County. The plug-in battery-electric buses are expected to begin operations in Orange County by end 2021.


The federal government has announced several initiatives and funding schemes to encourage transit agencies to electrify their existing bus fleets as part of a broader goal to achieve net-zero emissions by 2050. The American Jobs Plan, announced by the Biden administration, is expected to substantially increase domestic investments in EV and battery manufacturing, thereby accelerating the transition to electric buses. The implementation of an efficient nationwide charging network, under the American Jobs Plan, is expected to lower the cost of operating electric buses by eliminating the need for individual transit agencies to invest in additional charging infrastructure. The deployment of electric buses has superseded that of hydrogen fuel buses by over 90 per cent due to factors such as the lower cost of procurement and the individual preferences of transit agencies.While the demand for hydrogen fuel cell buses could increase substantially in the coming decade owing to factors such as faster refuelling time and better fuel millage, electric buses are expected to continue being the dominant type of zero-emission buses in the country. The West Coast is currently leading in the deployment of electric buses, mainly due to the high number of electric buses deployed (and planned to be deployed) in the state of California. The support offered by programmes such as the Clean Transportation Programme, TIRCP, ICT, and HVIP has been crucial in ensuring the high concentration of zero-emission buses in California.

The article has been sourced from Global Mass Transit and can be accessed by clicking here