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New Orleans Transit Authority Turns Electric With Federal Grant

The Regional Transit Authority will utilize the $71.4 million grant to purchase 20 new electric buses as well as charging stations. Of the RTA’s current fleet of 129 buses, none are electric.

The New Orleans Regional Transit Authority has received a $71.4 million federal grant to electrify a portion of its bus fleet, part of the transit agency's aim to increase its use of green vehicles as it rolls out a redesign of its route system.

The cash will fund 20 new electric buses and charging infrastructure, the RTA said during a board meeting this week. The U.S. Department of Transportation allocated the money through the Federal Transit Administration's most recent round of Low- and No-Emission Grants, which help state and local governments acquire eco-friendly buses and necessary facilities.

The RTA said $30 million of the grant will go toward building a microgrid of charging stations that will keep the system running during and after severe storms.

It has explored ways to enhance the sustainability of its fleet ever since New Orleans officials pledged to cut carbon emissions in the city in half by 2030. But electrification has been slow in coming. The agency has relied largely on clean diesel and biodiesel buses and shied away from electric buses due to increased costs.

Of the RTA's current fleet of 129 buses, 114 operate on clean diesel and 15 are hybrids.

The RTA does not currently operate any electric buses, and it has struggled to use grant funds to purchase electric vehicles in the past.

In 2021, the RTA, which relies chiefly on federal funds to maintain its fleet, won $5.15 million from the same grant to purchase three electric buses. But the RTA hasn't bought them yet. An agency spokesperson said it is "in the process" of purchasing the vehicles and charging equipment.

In all, the FTA awarded $1.69 billion of Low- and No-Emission Grants to 44 states and the District of Columbia. Of the 130 grants, New Orleans received the fourth largest sum.

Downtown Transit Center

The emissions-focused grant was the second chunk of federal funds the RTA received in the past week.

Last Friday, U.S. Rep. Troy Carter, who represents most of New Orleans, announced that the U.S. Department of Transportation will award $24.8 million to the RTA for the downtown transit center, which is set to be located at the site of the former Southern Railway Terminal.

The facility will serve as the hub of the RTA's proposed rapid bus system that could link New Orleans East, the Central Business District and Algiers. But the RTA will need to go back to the federal government to get the estimated $250 million needed for the project.

The transit system is adapting to a makeover in the bus system, dubbed New Links, which aims to speed up trips and make it easier to travel to and from Jefferson Parish. The new plan is being unveiled as the RTA deals with reduced ridership from the pandemic and an abrupt change in leadership.

The RTA currently operates thirty bus routes, four streetcar lines, two ferry routes and paratransit services for people with disabilities in New Orleans and Kenner.

(c)2023 The Times-Picayune | The New Orleans Advocate. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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