President Joe Biden is urging passage of a $2.3 trillion plan to rebuild America’s infrastructure, including improvements to bus systems.
$25 billion would go to expanding bus routes and rail lines. Another $25 billion would pay to convert gasoline and diesel-powered mass transit buses to zero-emission vehicles.
Geoff Straw, Executive Director of the San Luis Obispo Regional Transit Authority, says the increased federal funds would allow for further investment in zero-emission vehicles.
"All buses after 2029 have to be zero-emission and we're starting to phase those in in 2026. We knew this was coming so we designed the bus garage to handle only clean vehicles in the future. We're not investing in any gas tanks or diesel tanks for the internal combustion engines we currently operate,” Straw said.
One of the industries hardest hit by the pandemic was public transit. Trips on buses and rail systems fell by 53% in 2020, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
"A lot of people who were vulnerable were told to stay home, so the ridership went down about 50% to begin with,” Straw said. “The real challenge we're dealing with right now is overcrowding on the vehicles. Having six-foot distancing in the vehicles limits the number of passengers on the bus to about 15 passengers. In a lot of cases, we're pushed up past that number, so we have to tell passengers, ‘Hey, we've reached capacity.’"
Straw says RTA is currently investing in disinfecting misters and scrubbers that clean the air that is circulating in the vehicles.
RTA is hoping to move from a six-foot requirement for physical distancing among passengers to three feet to allow for increased capacity.