[Video] Our AREA in Action: Electrifying Metro Transit buses

Our AREA: The Alliance Regional Equity Agenda is a strategic document centered around the needs and aspirations of people of color, indigenous, immigrant, and low-income communities. It highlights the strategies Alliance members and partners are using and calls for further collective action to heal communities, stimulate regenerative power, dismantle structural racism, and end the displacement and gentrification of our communities. In this video series, we’ll highlight organizing successes and progress towards Our AREA strategies.

In the Twin Cities, poor air quality contributes to 2,000 deaths, 400 hospitalizations, and 600 emergency room visits every year. And the biggest contributor to that pollution isn’t power plants. It’s transportation.

So in 2018, the Coalition for Clean Transportation formed to address this environmental and health equity issue, setting out to transition the Metro Transit’s fleet to 100% zero-emission electric buses. In concert with other environment and transit equity issues, that effort became a key strategy in Our AREA: The Alliance Regional Equity Agenda.

Coalition for Clean Transportation member organizations

“In conversations around Our AREA, people recognized that we need a whole host of clean transportation solutions that benefit all communities,” said Joshua Houdek, Land Use and Transportation Program Manager, at the Sierra Club North Star Chapter. “By electrifying the Metro Transit bus fleet and prioritizing routes that serve transit-dependent communities, we can clear the air and address pollution.”
Houdek emphasized that the coalition’s seemingly quick progress in 2018 was possible thanks to longer-term advocacy within Metro Transit, including securing federal funding to pilot electric buses on the C Line with the goal of eventually electrifying all arterial bus rapid transit (BRT) routes. “But this campaign,” Houdek explained, “really elevated the issue with Metro Transit and the Met Council.”

With the input of riders, the coalition centered the devastating health impacts of diesel pollution, which disproportionately impact communities of color.

“I have COPD, which is a chronic lung condition,” said regular bus rider Maureen Benson. “I breathe in all the pollution from the bus every day.” Another rider, Paris Mullins, echoed this concern: “My daughter has asthma and when she’s around pollution her lungs get closed in… she always wears a scarf to cover her mouth.”

MN350, Sierra Club, ISAIAH, Twin Cities Transit Riders Union and others turned out dozens of residents and riders for public testimony and private meetings with key decision makers. First, that meant pushing Metro Transit to cancel the purchase of 130 diesel buses in September. “That was really a turning point in the campaign,” Houdek said. “It built up momentum and awareness.”

Then it meant making the case for the myriad benefits of electric buses, including not only the dramatic health benefits to riders, but taxpayer savings thanks to fewer repairs and cheaper “fuel” with charging the fleet during off-peak hours. In December, they secured an ambitious goal from Metro Transit: 100% zero-emission buses by 2040.

“The largest transit agency in the state committing to a zero-emission, clean bus fleet is a model for other transit agencies, not just in Minnesota, but across the country,” Houdek said.

But the campaign is far from over. Shortly after the goal was set, key leadership changes took place at Metro Transit, making it all the more critical to continue to engage leaders and ensure implementation. The coalition is also monitoring a bill at the state legislature that would make sure the most impacted areas are first in line for the clean buses, requiring “Metropolitan Council… deploy buses with the lowest air emissions in areas with poor air quality.”

Learn more about the coalition’s work and get involved at www.cctmn.org.