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In line with the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) recommendations, the University of Michigan’s Logistics, Transportation and Parking (LTP) began moving toward an all-electric bus system in October 2021 by ordering four vehicles for the Ann Arbor campus. The commission aims to fully electrify the transit bus system by 2035. 

William McAllister, general manager of transportation and waste management at the University, said the buses were purchased from bus manufacturer New Flyer and are scheduled to arrive on campus in the spring of 2023. According to McAllister, there are currently 56 buses in the University’s fleet — 29 of which are diesel hybrids, and the remaining 27 being clean diesel buses. The current diesel hybrid buses use diesel fuel for the internal combustion engine and an electric motor, consuming less energy and producing fewer emissions than the conventional all-diesel bus. The “clean diesel” New Flyer bus uses a blend of 20% biodiesel and standard diesel. 

Upon the arrival of the electric vehicles (EVs), the old buses will be rotated out and sold at a public auction through Property Disposition, McAllister said.

“We rotate buses out of our fleet on a yearly basis — this is based on both age and mileage of the buses,” McAllister said. “This is done on a one for one basis. For example, if we buy four new buses, then four old ones are retired.” 

McAllister added that the efforts towards an all-electric bus system are reflective of the University’s climate goals to reach carbon neutrality. 

“In 2021, the University announced comprehensive commitments toward achieving carbon neutrality university-wide,” McAllister said. 

By 2025, the University aims to reduce Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity, as well as to establish further goals limiting emissions from indirect sources. The University is implementing these goals through Planet Blue

Sustainability Communications Manager Adam Fisher said Planet Blue works with several departments and units spanning across the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses, including Michigan Medicine and Athletics. 

“(Planet Blue) is not a department, but a partnership of different units around the University all working together toward the University’s climate action goals and toward fostering a culture of sustainability, on and off campus,” Fisher said. 

McAllister said Michigan’s LTP remains committed to achieving these goals, as decarbonizing the bus fleet is an important step towards the University’s carbon neutrality plan. 

“Transit has already purchased four EV buses as part of our capital replacement plan, including one that is articulated and can carry more passengers, which reduces emissions per rider,” McAllister said. 

Business senior Achintya Saxena, who supports sustainability initiatives on campus, said he agrees with the University’s decision to purchase electric buses. 

“If there is any sort of way to reduce (carbon emissions), I feel like electric buses will be a great way to do it,” Saxena said. 

U-M finances sustainable endeavors through “green bonds.” Totaling $300 million, these bonds fund capital projects related to climate goals, which has supported the purchase of electric buses. 

McAllister said green bonds have been used to finance the purchase of electric buses, in addition to other resources. 

“Buses are a shared campus resource funded by a combination of campus and health system resources, supplemented by funds from green bonds to assist with the transition to electric vehicles,” McAllister said. 

The future of implementing an all-electric bus system at the University is promising but will also present new challenges McAllister added. 

“We need to make sure that we have the infrastructure to support bus charging and also have to look at how EV buses perform in our climate to ensure that we can continue to operate at our current service levels,” McAllister said. 

The new transportation facility is being designed to support electric buses, using purchased energy from renewable sources. The University is also continuing collaborations with the City of Ann Arbor to expand electric vehicle charging stations in and around the University.  

“Over time, it is important to make sure that electric vehicles aren’t the sole answer,” Saxena said. “It only really works when it is powered by, or coupled with, a clean grid.” 

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