Electric Buses Drive Healthier Communities

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

MASSPIRG Education Fund

Contact: Matt Casale, 617-747-4314,  [email protected]

If the MBTA transitioned its entire fleet of diesel 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 MASSPIRG Education Fund and Frontier Group, “Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air,” shows that a full transition to electric buses in we could avoid an average of 55,000 tons of climate-altering pollution each year — the equivalent of taking over 10,000 cars off the road.  

“There’s no reason we should be running dirty, polluting buses in our communities when we have better, cleaner options,” said Matt Casale, MASSPIRG Education Fund staff attorney. “Our research shows that whether commuters are on the bus or boarding the bus, they’re exposed to toxic air in high concentrations, while simultaneously, diesel contributes to 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. 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.

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.

“Diesel can cause a number of health problems, including asthma and cancer, and unfortunately that’s what is powering most of America’s buses,” said Alana Miller, policy analyst at Frontier Group and coauthor of the report. “Our report shows that all-electric buses can help cities address public health and climate concerns while saving money in the long-run.”

“Patients with lung disease are the most vulnerable to the effects of air pollution, including black carbon and small particulate matter produced by diesel buses,” said Dr. Alexander Rabin, a fellow at Mass General and Beth Israel. “And we know that lifetime exposure to even low levels of roadway pollution lead to increased rates of asthma among children. We have a tremendous opportunity to improve the health of our community by transitioning away from dirty buses to clean, electrified forms of transportation. On behalf of my patients and my lung physician colleagues, I strongly support this movement towards cleaner air for all.”

The report identifies several ways Massachusetts can pay for the transition to electric buses, including using Volkswagen settlement funds, state and federal grants, and utility investments. The Bay State is receiving $75 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 Casale. “The T should make the same commitment.”


MASSPIRG is a non-profit, non-partisan public interest advocacy organization that stands up to powerful interests whenever they threaten our health and safety, our financial security, or our right to fully participate in our democratic society. On the web at www.masspirg.org.