Activists say T’s electric bus plan bypasses Dot, Mattapan

The environmental initiative of the MBTA to convert their diesel buses to electrified vehicles is ongoing.

While the project’s goal is greener, more efficient transportation, TransitMatters, a group advocating fair public transportation in Boston, argues that the agency’s North Cambridge plan to replace the area’s trolleybuses is a waste of resources Delaying renovations further could be undertaken to reduce transit emissions in other communities, including Dorchester and Mattapan.

In North Cambridge, electric trolleybuses and their overhead lines would be replaced by battery-powered electric buses. The T wants to replace the old system because road works, cable problems and other incidents often keep the trolleybuses off the road and diesel buses run in their place, according to a spokesman for the transport company.

However, Jarred Johnson, the managing director of TransitMatters, said the new electric buses would require diesel heaters in the winter, which in turn will cause CO2 emissions.

“Replacing electric buses with electric buses that will likely have to use diesel too – that’s just not what you do if you are serious about climate change,” said Johnson.

For MBTA, a move to a greener bus system will be made as soon as possible by replacing the North Cambridge trolley system with a hybrid electric and diesel heating system, said agency spokesman Joe Pesaturo, adding: “These buses will mainly use electric heating, supplemented by diesel heating the coldest days to limit emissions as much as possible. ”

Diesel heating is necessary, says the T, because the electric buses have trouble keeping the driver and driver warm in winter.

“However, there are plans to phase out the diesel interior heating when we learn from these large-scale operations, make operational changes and develop charging networks in cities and towns,” the agency stated.

Regarding MBTA’s plans to eventually get rid of its diesel heating systems, Johnson said that intermediate step was a waste of time and resources and the reason why “time, money and energy are not spent on Dorchester and Mattapan”.

The MBTA has cited plans to build an electric bus garage in Quincy by 2024. An electric bus garage is also slated to be built, and a garage along the Arborway is slated to be built between 2024 and 2026.

Johnson said he believes the money the MBTA is allocating to the North Cambridge trolleybus project should instead be used to accelerate progress in the Jamaica Plain arborway garage – where funding is, according to one from the MBTA report published in April is not yet confirmed. He also said the MBTA could buy electric buses for the Quincy garage, slated for routes in Ashmont and Mattapan.

Johnson believes the MBTA’s plans prioritize communities that are not as badly affected by air pollution, including Dorchester and Mattapan, where rates of asthma and other respiratory diseases are higher than neighborhoods like Cambridge.

“There are a number of reasons why the life expectancy of neighborhoods in Dorchester is so much lower compared to Back Bay and other neighborhoods, but certainly because of the air quality and traffic [are among] these reasons, ”he said.

The MBTA has said their plans will cost less and reduce emissions, but Johnson disagrees, saying the agency’s plans for electric buses in Cambridge will actually undo their promise to convert their bus system into cleaner sources of transportation.

“I think justice is all or nothing,” he said, “by pouring it into everything you do. I don’t think you can pick and choose something like that. This is a case in which the T does not lead with equity. ”

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