Pace Suburban Bus announced a commitment to Zero Emission Vehicles (ZEV) by 2040 in their strategic plan, marking a significant step forward for environmental justice and transportation electrification in the Chicago metropolitan area. For months, Sierra Club Illinois, Clean Power Lake County, Climate Reality Project, and several other environmental organizations urged Pace to prioritize electrifying their transportation fleet, starting with environmental justice communities like Waukegan. The newly revised Strategic Plan, “Driving Innovation,” is a monumental shift from previous versions of Pace’s strategic plan and represents the power of grassroots advocacy.
Environmental organizations have urged Pace to reconsider ongoing investments in diesel buses, which emit toxic carcinogens that have been proven to adversely affect cardiovascular and respiratory health, and instead commit to a firm deadline for a transition to electrification. In addition, advocates pushed Pace to prioritize communities most impacted by fossil fuel pollution. In a reversal of plans from just a month prior, yesterday Pace not only firmly committed to cease the purchase of new diesel buses, but also announced a $10 million plan to pilot electric bus infrastructure and bus purchases in Waukegan beginning in 2022 with a commitment to spend $50 million on electric buses over the next 5 years and to fully electrify the Waukegan fleet by 2026.
“Waukegan is a frontline environmental justice community in Lake County and home to the Medline ethylene oxide facility, a coal-fired power plant, five different EPA superfund sites, and a diesel Pace bus garage,” says Leah Hartung, steering committee member of Clean Power Lake County. “For years we’ve been saying that because of the cumulative and disproportionate impact of pollution on environmental justice communities, these communities should be prioritized first in decarbonization efforts. Pace’s new strategic plan demonstrates that our voices were heard and environmental justice communities are finally being prioritized.”
Pace’s 2022 strategic plan budgets for the purchase of six electric buses in Waukegan, charging infrastructure, and continued funding for 51 Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses in the Wheeling garage. Pace’s 2022-2026 capital budget includes the purchase of 52 electric buses, maintains and expands public transit service, and invests millions in charging infrastructure and equipment to facilitate electrification. Although the purchase of additional CNG buses and the CNG garage expansion continues to support fossil fuel investments with public tax dollars, Pace’s commitment to electrification is a step in the right direction.
“We applaud Pace for listening to advocates and making this commitment to a clean transportation future,” says Jess Beverly, Clean Energy Advocate with Sierra Club Illinois. “It’s evident that there is tremendous public support for electrifying Pace’s transportation fleet. Sierra Club Illinois and our partners submitted over 800 comments to the Pace Board of Directors and consistently showed up to voice our concerns with the budget and strategic plan. Pace’s commitment to electrification is a sign our concerns were heard.”
Pace anticipates holding in person and virtual public hearings on their capital budget from October 21, 2021 through October 29, 2021. Information on how to engage in these hearings will be posted to their website and Sierra Club members will receive updates about what this plan includes when information becomes more available.