State and local dignitaries joined TCAT in the Ithaca Commons on Earth Day, Thurs., April 22, to celebrate the launch of its first-ever battery-electric buses — a major step for the agency in its aim to serve its riders with an all emission-free fleet within the next 14 years.
Last month, California-based Proterra delivered seven of their fifth-generation 40-foot ZX5+ buses to TCAT from the company’s manufacturing plant in South Carolina. Soon after their arrival, TCAT’s maintenance team got to work outfitting the buses with fare collection and radio equipment. That process was followed by visits from New York Department of Transportation inspectors who were on site to make sure all meet strict safety standards for their seal of approval. Finally, the buses became ready to show off after detailers covered them one by one in a snazzy electric-themed wraps designed by TCAT artist Jenn Jennings and Seifert Graphics.
“Despite what we all have endured over the course of 2020, TCAT is still on track to meet our goal of having an all battery-electric fleet by 2035,” said TCAT General Manager Scot Vanderpool in opening the bus launch ceremony at the Bernie Milton Pavilion “Deploying these first seven buses is a major step towards that goal. TCAT is proud to be doing our part in reducing the carbon footprint -benefiting generations to come.”
TCAT’s battery- electric bus initiative started in 2017 soon after Vanderpool took over the helm as TCAT’s general manager when he heard about potential funding for battery-electric buses. The costs of the buses will be offset via the federal Volkswagen Settlement. Additionally, part of the funding was provided through the FTA Low-No Grant Program, with the help of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer. Schumer issued a statement for Vanderpool to relay at the event, which said: “I am proud to help deliver the federal money needed to purchase these pollution-free electric buses for TCAT and the people of Ithaca. TCAT’s transportation services are a lifeline for Tompkins County residents, higher education institutions, and bustling downtown business centers – and accomplishing this mission while reducing the carbon polluting our planet is a win-win.”
Another major contributor was the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA), whose eMobility team helped TCAT design and install the necessary charging infrastructure for the new buses. The installation provided electrical capacity infrastructure for a total of 12 Proterra 125kW fast chargers allowing for future expansion when TCAT adds more battery-electric buses to its fleet.
Guest speakers at the Earth Day ceremony included NY Assemblyperson Anna Kelles, who represents Tompkins County’s 125th district; Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, Chairperson of the Tompkins County Legislature; Joel Malina, Vice-President for University Relations/ Cornell University; Luis Aguirre-Torres, Director of Sustainability for the City of Ithaca; Dawn Montanye, Team Leader, Way2Go, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County; and Jim Bright, NYPA’s eMobility engineer; and Stephen Cofta and Jarrett Stolzfus (Cornell’ 16) representatives from Proterra.
Kelles, who took her seat in the NY State Assembly in January after serving in the Tompkins County Legislature, said she and her like-minded colleagues have hit the ground running too push for a number of programs to include include highway upgrades (pot hole repairs) and the necessary infrastructure to support electric vehicles. So far in the budget process, they have been able to capture “huge wins” for upstate New York by protecting a number programs essential to the community’s health and economic well-being. She lauded Vanderpool as “one of the most dedicated people I met” for his initiatives at improving local transit and said she is proud to represent a community fights for positive change, adding: “I really want everyone to know how special we are and how driven we are in this community.”
Montanye, whose Way2Go program has been helping community members access transportation for nearly 10 years, works with TCAT and others to find and implement solutions to both reduce transportation’s impact on greenhouse gas emissions. “We believe that transit is the backbone of a robust transportation system. Transportation is also the largest emitter of GHG emissions in the US. So this is a great step in addressing this problem,” Montanye said. ” We are so excited to welcome these new electric buses to TCAT’s fleet. They’ll add to TCAT’s services by allowing riders to ride in comfort while not having to breathe exhaust fumes. Whether they’re on the bus or waiting for a bus they’ll experience this beautiful new vehicle that gets them where they need to go in a much healthier way. These buses will be a great asset for all in our community.”
Cornell’s Malina also praised the strong and long-standing partnership between Cornell and TCAT, and also provided a brief history of how the agency was borne of three separate transit systems operated by the city, the county and his university. “Cornell is extremely proud as a long-time supporter from day one,” he said. The three entities joined forces in the 1991 and soon after they moved into the transit facility at 737 Willow Ave. along with Gadabout Transportation Services, Inc. Effective 2005, TCAT became a not-for-profit corporation supported locally by all three entities.) “Congratulations, first and foremost, to the innovative, forward-thinking TCAT staff for their efforts, on Earth Day 2021, and every day,” Malina said. “Their leadership in promoting and developing a bus system with a focus on sustainability has never been more evident than today. The efforts of these hard-working women and men have made the award-winning Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit one of the greenest and most progressive bus systems of its size in the United States.”
The city’s Aguirre-Torres, who recently took over his new position to lead the city’s sustainability efforts, said he looks forward to working with TCAT to advance the city’s Green New Deal and said “TCAT is setting the example” among the many in the community who will need to work together to meet the many climate objectives set forth in the plan.
In a statement, NYPA’s President and CEO Gil C. Quiniones said, “The New York Power Authority is pleased to be supporting TCAT in its transition to zero-emission buses that will significantly cut carbon emissions and illustrate Tompkins County’s commitment to a sustainable future. These eye-catching, environmentally friendly vehicles will carry the benefits of clean transportation throughout the City of Ithaca, Tompkins County and the Cornell University area. We applaud the entire region for setting an example that will surely inspire other municipalities to take similar action and help New York State reach ambitious clean energy goals that include reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector.” While addressing today’s gather, NYPA’s Jim Bright looked over at the battery-electric bus parked on the Commons for demonstration and envisioned how the cutting edge technology used to manufacture it will benefit many municipalities and the environment as a whole in the years to come.
Just a few hours before she took to the podium, McBean-Clairborne, said she was inspired when she heard a radio report about the latest climate initiatives from the White House. President Biden, she said, pledged to cut U.S. greenhouse gas pollution by 50% by 2030 and outlined “an aggressive plan that would require sweeping changes to America’s energy and transportation sectors putting the United States on a path for a zero-emissions economy by no later than 2050.”
“Today in Tompkins County, we are taking one more step towards our own goal and towards this new national goal. This small step sets us among the leaders working towards full electrification and full reduction of carbon emissions,” McBean-Clairborne said.
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