Electric Buses Can Reduce Families’ Exposure to Toxic Fumes

Media Contacts
Emily Scarr

State Director, Maryland PIRG; Director, Stop Toxic PFAS Campaign, PIRG

New report demonstrates public health benefits of leaving diesel buses in the dust

Maryland PIRG Foundation

If Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) transitioned its entire fleet of 732 transit buses to all-electric vehicles, it could significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions each year and reduce toxic air pollution that creates a public health hazard. A new report from Maryland PIRG Foundation and Frontier Group, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air,” shows that a full transition to electric buses by the MTA could avoid an average of 11,000 tons of climate-altering pollution each year — the equivalent of taking 2,100 cars off the road.  

“Buses help us get to where we need to go while keeping cars off the road, but there’s no reason we should be running dirty, polluting buses in Baltimore or anywhere in Maryland when we have better, cleaner options,” said Maryland PIRG Director Emily Scarr. “Diesel busses contribute to toxic air pollution and global warming. We have the technology to avoid this, so why wouldn’t we?”

More than 60 percent of the nation’s nearly 70,000 transit buses run on diesel, while just 0.2 percent of buses are all-electric.  Numerous studies have shown that inhaling diesel exhaust can cause respiratory diseases and worsen existing conditions such as asthma. The negative effects are especially pronounced in children.  Diesel exhaust from buses poses a particular public health risk; buses primarily travel where there are lots of people, including in the more densely-crowded areas of cities, on the busiest roads, and near schools.  In Baltimore, city buses also serve as school buses. 

The good news is that all-electric buses are available and ready to roll, and they’re cleaner, healthier and often cheaper for transit agencies to run in the long-term. And with zero tailpipe emissions, electric school buses can significantly reduce people’s exposure to toxic fumes.

“Countless studies have shown that exposures to environmental risk factors, including air pollution, exacerbate asthma. In the state of Maryland, over 430,000 adults live with asthma among other lifelong respiratory conditions. Baltimore is in the center of the state’s predilection towards pollution, exposing residents to a deadly combination nitrogen, particulate matter and ozone from aging multi-modal transit, truck traffic, diesel fumes,flue gas and fly ash from waste to energy,” says Tamara Toles O’Laughlin, executive director of the Maryland Environmental Health Network. “Hospitalization costs for asthma in the state are upwards of  $66M. The VW settlement is an opportunity for this legacy of pollution to be addressed with fleet electrification, if Maryland Department of Environment takes its cues from the communities bearing the burden on how best to utilize those funds”. 

The report identifies several ways  can pay for the transition to electric buses, including using Volkswagen settlement funds, state and federal grants, and utility investments. Maryland is receiving $75.7 million as part of the Volkswagen “Dieselgate” settlement. A portion of that money could be used to purchase all-electric buses and charging infrastructure.

“Major cities across the world have committed to protecting public health and the climate by transitioning to 100 percent all-electric buses,” added Scarr. “The MTA should make the same commitment for the Baltimore region.”