Pure electric buses in factories

St. Louis residents of neighborhoods with high levels of poverty and unemployment also breathe air with higher levels of pollution, according to a study from Washington University in St. Louis. (Adobe Stock)

(St. Louis) -- The St. Louis Metro Area Transit Agency is replacing its diesel buses with a fleet of 14 new electric vehicles.

The Metro Transit governing board green-lighted the nearly $20 million price tag, mostly paid for through federal grants. Advocates say the price is worth cleaner air and lower greenhouse gas emissions, and also means a smoother and quieter ride for commuters.

Executive Director of St. Louis Metro Transit Jessica Mefford-Miller says improved battery technology means the buses can stay on the road longer before having to be charged.

"As the technology is continuing to advance, it becomes more attainable," says Mefford-Miller. "The cost is coming down, the energy is becoming more reliable, batteries are able to store more. And that's really critical for the transportation industry."

The transit agency say it expects the new buses to be on the road in early 2021.

John Hickey, chapter director of the Sierra Club Missouri Chapter, says several years ago, the group filed a lawsuit against local electric utility, Ameren, over air pollution from its power plant.

That resulted in the company agreeing to provide $1 million dollars toward charging stations for the new buses.

"And we reached an out-of-court settlement with the utility, in which Ameren pledged to help fund rewiring the bus garage, so that there would be places for electric buses to plug into," says Hickey.

Mefford-Miller points out the electric buses will, over time, save the city money, both on maintenance and fuel costs - which is a win for taxpayers.

"I see it making a huge impact on the region, because we're not adding to our operating cost," says Mefford-Miller. "In fact, we're lowering our operating cost. That translates to more service on the street for our customers."

Cities across Missouri are shifting toward cleaner public transportation. Kansas City and Springfield also have recently announced plans to purchase electric buses.