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Earth Day 2024: How Transit Agencies Can Accelerate Decarbonization

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Around the globe, public transit agencies are at a crossroads, faced with the imperative to transition to cleaner energy sources amidst growing concerns over climate change and local air pollution. As the world shifts towards sustainability, transit agencies have a major opportunity to reduce carbon emissions by positioning transit as the mode of choice and offering more environmentally friendly transportation options. While the transition to electrification presents several challenges, from funding constraints to infrastructure requirements, informed decision-making is key to their success. In honor of Earth Day this year, Keolis is offering practical steps and considerations for guiding agencies in accelerating their move toward electrification.

Shifting the Mode of Choice:

The U.S. Department of Transportation has identified the transportation sector as responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other.. Electric vehicles (EVs) have become a popular solution for reducing emissions on an individual level, but the carbon footprint of personal car travel remains high, particularly among single-occupancy vehicle trips. Public transportation, on the other hand, has the potential to significantly lower carbon emissions by consolidating passenger travel and maximizing vehicle occupancy. Studies consistently show that, on a per-passenger basis, public transit is far less carbon-intensive than single-occupant vehicle travel, even when accounting for the emissions associated with transit infrastructure and operations. A cultural shift towards prioritizing public transit as the mode of choice is necessary for mitigating the environmental impact of transportation and advancing toward a more sustainable future.

The Climate for Alternative Fuels:

Estimates say that global public transport capacity must double by 2030 for the world to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees C (2.7 degrees F) and avert the worst impacts of climate change. In recent years, the urgency of addressing climate change has led to increased regulatory pressure on agencies to reduce their carbon footprint. Governmental mandates and environmental regulations are accelerating the shift to alternative fuels, with an emphasis on decarbonization and reducing tailpipe emissions. This shift necessitates a move away from traditional gasoline and diesel-powered fleets towards cleaner energy sources.

The transition to alternative fuels involves a broad assessment of factors, including fuel choice, operational range, passenger satisfaction, and fleet upgrades. Agencies should carefully evaluate the practical implications of different fuel options, such as natural gas, electric, or hydrogen. Additionally, navigating the complex landscape of federal, state, and local regulations requires strategic planning and expertise.

The transition to electrification is a multi-year process that requires thorough planning and execution. Transit systems can and should follow a structured timeline, starting by analyzing fuel choices and progressing through design, procurement, and implementation phases. Financial considerations are also critical, with funding opportunities available through laws such as the 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL). The BIL provides $12.5B for EV charging stations and the purchase of electric and hybrid school buses, funds available through 2026 via the Federal Transportation Administration.

Choosing the Right Alternative Fuel and Building Infrastructure:

Choosing the right alternative fuel hinges on several factors, from infrastructure availability to operational requirements to long-term sustainability. Agencies should weigh the benefits of each option, considering factors such as refueling infrastructure, vehicle maintenance, and environmental impact. Collaborating with local stakeholders and industry experts can also help transit systems make informed decisions that align with their goals and priorities.

Beyond the planning process, the transition to electrification requires significant investments in infrastructure and capacity-building. Agencies may need to upgrade or construct new facilities for charging stations, refueling infrastructure, and vehicle maintenance, which requires careful coordination to minimize disruptions to service and ensure a smooth transition for passengers. Ultimately, though, increasing access to reliable public transport will lead to worthwhile benefits, such as lower traffic fatality rates, more active city residents, and broader access to jobs and education.

Keolis Case Studies:

To better assist agencies with electrification, Keolis established its Global Center of Excellence for Energy Transition in 2021, a centralized hub that offers invaluable resources and guidance. Leveraging the collective knowledge and experience of our industry partners, the Center provides expertise, best practices, and technical assistance, streamlining the complexities that inevitably come with the energy transition process. Keolis actively monitors feedback from transit networks worldwide, tracking local pollutants, operational data, and safety considerations.

Currently, Keolis manages approximately 5,000 alternative fuel vehicles, including electric, natural gas vehicles (NGVs), hydrogen, biodiesel, and hybrid models. To highlight one example, Keolis began operating Foothill Transit’s Pomona, California operations in July 2017. Foothill Transit's fleet of 33 hydrogen fuel cell buses sets a precedent for energy transition initiatives globally. And, in Blois, France, Keolis increased public transit usage on the Azalys network by 38% in seven years (2013-2020) as it launched a 100 percent electric bus line. Keolis’ success in Foothill and Blois is a testament to our mission of strengthening transport in the regions where our partners operate, promoting more sustainable mobility, and increasing network ridership.


As transit agencies continue to navigate the shift to electrification, strategic planning, and collaboration will be essential for success. In honor of Earth Day, Keolis reaffirms our commitment to supporting opportunities to deploy alternative fuels, continuing to make strides in reducing carbon emissions for our partners in North America, and better informing PTAs worldwide about how to transition their fleets to clean energy sources. By embracing alternative fuels and investing in the right infrastructure, agencies can play a pivotal role in reducing carbon emissions and promoting sustainable transportation options for all.

Keolis has produced an e-book on how to successfully decarbonize our public transit modes. Visit our content library for more information and to download: