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Cape's public transit system could be almost entirely electric in 12 years

Three new electric buses will soon transport Steamship Authority passengers to and from parking lots in Hyannis and Falmouth to ferry terminals in Hyannis and Woods Hole.
Steamship Authority
The CCRTA is moving to replace its gas-powered buses with vehicles similar to this electric bus, one of three that the Steamship Authority recently brought online to carry passengers to-and-from parking lots in Hyannis and Falmouth to ferry terminals in Hyannis and Woods Hole.

In just 12 years, the Cape’s public transit system could be relying almost entirely on electric vehicles.

The Cape Cod Regional Transit Authority (CCRTA) worked with the consultant group Hatch to lay out a replacement schedule for 127 buses, vans, and trolleys in a newly released strategic plan.

The whole project, which would require transit officials to navigate challenges with electrical infrastructure, supply chains, and the age and condition of the power grid, is estimated to cost $79 million. A combination of local, state, and federal funds would be necessary.

It’s worth it, CCRTA officials said at a meeting in the Hyannis Transportation Center on Wednesday. The overall goal is to help cut down on greenhouse gas emissions that drive climate change; 55% of the Cape’s emissions come from the transportation sector. By making 127 of 143 vehicles in the fleet electric, officials expect a 66% reduction in the CCRTA’s annual greenhouse gas emissions.

“Initially, we wanted to be aggressive and set a time that's a little sooner. But we had to be realistic about the way things are going in the industry,” said Tom Cahir, administrator of CCRTA.  

The timeline gives CCRTA time to solve for battery range limitations, the Cape’s topography, a 400 square mile service area, and utility capacity. CCRTA will need to map out opportunities for on-route charging facilities and coordinate with emergency responders.

CCRTA officials said they also hope to help develop curriculum to teach Cape Cod Community College students about battery electric vehicles, so that, Cahir said, they can get “high paying jobs” with CCRTA right out of school.

Once the first batch of electric vehicles are purchased, they’ll be put to the test in the town of Barnstable. At the heart of every decision, Cahir said, is a commitment to prioritizing rider safety and comfort. He believes electric buses, vans, and trolleys will do just that.

“There's no gas, fumes. The noise is obviously not there,” he said. “It’s very smooth. It's very, very quiet, as you would imagine. It’s very fast.” 

Eve Zuckoff covers the environment and human impacts of climate change for CAI.