100% Renewable Transportation by 2045 – Hawaii is Leading the Charge

by Courtney Murtagh, UMTC Intern


In December 2017 Hawaii’s four Mayors committed to 100% renewable public and private transportation by 2045. Meaning all of Hawaii’s cars, busses, trucks and trains will use renewable energy as fuel.

The four mayors – Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa, Kauai County Mayor Bernard Carvalho Jr. and Hawaii County Managing Director Wil Okabe, representing Mayor Harry Kim – signed their respective proclamations, solidifying Hawaii’s status as a nation leader in renewable energy.

Hawaii has always been on the forefront of sustainability and in many ways is leading the nation. In 2015, Hawaii’s Governor David Ige signed into law a bill to reach 100% renewable energy consumption by 2045. In June 2017, another law was passed and Hawaii was once again the first state to commit to the Paris climate accord, despite President Trumps decision to pull the U.S. out of the agreement.

Despite Hawaii being the second in the U.S for electric vehicles sales per capita, Hawaii’s ground transportation still accounts for over a quarter of the states imported fossil fuel consumption as well as a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Exuberant gas prices due to the Islands geography and the high cost of importing oil are the reason many Hawaii citizens are readily accepting this act. Locals and leaders alike are hoping that renewable transportation will reduce the cost of living as well as attract businesses and create jobs.

Hawaii is the first state to commit to this goal, but other states including Massachusetts may not be far behind.

In September 2017, a hearing was held to consider the 100% Renewable Energy Act, which would put Massachusetts on the path to obtain 100% of its electricity from renewable resources by 2035, as well as heating and transportation by 2050.

The Bill (S.1849) passed the House on January 23 and is currently being referred to the joint committee on telecommunication, Utilities and Energy.

More than 40 U.S. cities and 100 global companies have committed to 100% renewable energy.

Run to Catch the Transit

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

BVG – Design

Walking and transit have always been linked.  For one transit agency in Berlin, Germany, all you need to ride transit, are your Adidas sneakers.  The transit operator BVG has partnered with the Adidas shoe company to have its transit pass imbeded in their sneaker.  This pass is for unlimited rides and will only be available in certain transit zones.

Beginning January 1, 2018 through December 31, 2018, the unique pair of sneakers will have an annual BVG season transit imbedded in the tongue of the shoe. This is a limited-edition sneaker, only 500 pairs will be available.

Pedestrian Research Findings Presented to MassDOT

Belmont Ave., Holyoke, MA

On Friday, Jan 26th, Dr. Robert Ryan, from UMass Amherst, and his graduate students presented their results on The Role of Street Trees on Pedestrian Safety research project at an Executive Briefing meeting which took place in the Office of Transportation Planning (OTP).  This research aims to study the link between street trees and pedestrians’ perceptions of safety, along with actual safety while walking along street corridors in Chicopee, Holyoke and Springfield.

One research objective for this project centers on how road volume across street corridors, as well as streetscape features may impact pedestrian safety. Another key objective includes understanding how both residents and nonresidents value the presence or absence of street trees as related to vehicular traffic speed, as well as how to spatially assess pedestrian-vehicle accident reports with the presence of street trees.

Preliminary findings discussed at the Executive Briefing include:

  • Socio-demographic information
  • Important features for walking route choice
  • Results by city
  • Results by street tree cover
  • Results by age, gender, income, and race
  • Preference for additional tree plantings and future improvements

A Big GHG Reduction – An Entire Bus Fleet Goes Electric

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for electric buses stations

Approximately 16,000 diesel buses were replaced with 16,000 electric buses, in the city of Shenchen, China.  This is the single largest replacement for electric buses to-date.  The mass overhaul included not only getting rid of over 16,000 diesel buses, it also included connecting over 500 charging stations and installing over 800 poles to charge the buses.

Not only are the environmental benefits big, with the reduction of Green House Gas (GHG) emissions; the city of Shenchen has become a quieter city, less the bus engine noise.  The city is also on track for long-term cost savings, in the order of not relying on 75% of the bus fuel coming from fossil fuels.

The recently completed MassDOT project Zero Emission Transit Bus and Refueling Technologies and Deployment Status, championed by Lily Oliver, Office of Transportation Planning. This report summarizes the characteristics of three Zero Electric Buses technologies: 1) battery electric buses; 2) fuel cell battery electric buses; and 3) fuel cell plug-in hybrid electric buses, as well as relevant implementations in the U.S., through a comprehensive review of the available literature, an online survey of several transit agencies that have implemented or are planning to implement ZEBs, and interviews with transit agency representatives. The focus is on performance and cost characteristics of these technologies as well as implementation approaches, refueling strategies, and funding mechanisms.

MassDOT at TRB 2018!

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Image result for transportation infrastructure repurposing

Nikki Tishler, Transportation Planner and Title VI Strategist for MassDOT, provided great moderating skills at last week’s Transportation Research Board Annual Conference, as she orchestrated the session: Repurposing and Resizing Our Infrastructure: Responsible Investment for the New World.  The presentations and discussions centered on right-sizing the infrastructure for future transportation function, efficiency and service.  DOT’s continue to improve project and asset management processes as they integrate existing and future societal needs with an anticipated reduction in funding.

Morning Joe to Help Buses Go

by Tracy Zafian, Research Fellow


Startup company bio-bean is collecting used coffee grounds from cafes, restaurants, and factories and turning them into a biofuel for powering London’s buses. Bio-bean is partnering with Shell and Argent Energy, the United Kingdom’s largest biodiesel producer, on this project. So far, more than 1,600 gallons of coffee fuel have been produced, enough to help power one city bus for a year.

The collected coffee grounds are dried and then the natural oils in the coffee (also known as caffeol) are extracted and blended with other fuels to create B20 biofuel, containing 20% biodiesel and 80% petroleum diesel. This fuel can be used in standard diesel engines. According to the bio-bean web site, “Spent coffee grounds are highly calorific and contain valuable compounds, making them an ideal feedback from which to produce clean fuels.”


The coffee fuel initiative in London, the first in the world, is a demonstration project. Bio-bean is interested in expanding to other markets. One market with great promise: the U.S., where over 400 million cups of coffee are consumed each day.

Article source:  CNN (http://money.cnn.com/2017/11/20/technology/coffee-fuel-bus-london-bio-bean/index.html). This link also contains a brief video interview with bio-bean founder, Arthur Kay.


Transportation Sector – Moving from GHGs to Electricity

by: Matt Mann, Research Program Coordinator

Gas vs Hybrid

As Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) continue to contribute to climate change, the biggest contributor is now the transportation sector, taking over from the power plants.  This doesn’t mean there are more emissions coming out of tailpipes; rather less coal is being used and an increase in cleaner natural gas are two of the biggest reasons.  In the long-term, the other reason could also include an increase in demand of electric vehicles.

Transportation emissions have been fairly flat since 2000 and with a slight increase since 2012.  This, coupled with an increase in the way electricity emissions are produced, has allowed planes, trains and automobiles to become the lead emitter of GHGs since the late 1970s.  Electricity demand has also leveled off, as the shift has been away from coal and more on natural gas and renewable energy.

Even though electricity demand has leveled off, the increase demand for electric vehicles could change this.  With a minimal but consistent increase over the last couple of years, electric vehicles are expected to widen their reach and even include electric delivery trucks as well. With electric vehicles becoming more affordable, reliant and convenient, this increase in demand could eventually have a big impact on pollution emitted.

There are a couple recently completed MassDOT research publications on GHGs reduction and electric vehicles, written by One Center Research Affiliates Erin Baker and Song Gao.  Also Shannon Greenwell, from the Office of Transportation Planning at MassDOT, is currently working on a review and analysis of low-cost, quick to deploy, and scalable GHG-reducing investment strategies that would supplement traditional capital investments.

US: Transit Agencies Cautious on Electric Buses Despite Bold Forecasts – Dr. Christofa and Dr. Pollitt Weigh in

by: Melissa Paciulli, UMTC Manager of Research

electric buses
Chicago Tribune, 2017

One Center Affiliates, Dr. Eleni Christofa and Dr. Krystal Pollitt recently completed research for MassDOT on evaluating electric and other zero emission buses in the U.S. As part of this research, they completed an extensive review of transit agencies’ experience with electric buses across the country.  We asked them to weigh in on a recent article published by Nicholas Groom, from Reuters, December 12, 2017 on MassTransit, which reported that “more than 65,000 public buses plying U.S. roads today, just 300 are electric. Among the challenges: EVs are expensive, have limited range and are unproven on a mass scale.”

Dr Christofa and Dr. Pollitt, argue that based on their findings, “Electric buses have the potential to expand across the fleets of U.S. transit agencies; limiting factors have been driving range and costs. Recent advances in battery technology are moving towards overcoming these hurdles with increases in energy density and decreased battery costs.”

MassDOT Contracts with UMass Lowell Researchers on “Greenhouse Gas Reduction Strategy Analysis.”

by: Shannon Greenwell, MassDOT Transportation Planner and edited by: Melissa Paciulli, Manager of Research

MassDOT has chosen Affiliate Researchers, Danjue Chen, Yuanchang Xie, and Jill Hendrickson Lohmeier to start a 12-to-18-month research project based in UMass Lowell.

MassDOT’s primary lever for reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions is investment in transportation projects and programs that reduce congestion and promote low emission transportation options such as transit, walking and bicycling. Primarily, this includes traditional capital projects such as constructing sidewalks and bicycle lanes, improving intersections, and procuring cleaner transit vehicles. While these investments are integral to MassDOT’s mission to provide safe and reliable transportation options, and also support Massachusetts’ efforts to achieve the Commonwealth’s emissions reduction targets set out under the Global Warming Solutions Act (GWSA),[1] they often have high capital costs and long design and construction timelines.


Through this search endeavor, MassDOT seeks a review and analysis of low-cost, quick to deploy and scaleable GHG-reducing investment strategies that would supplement traditional capital investments. This data will inform decision-making on how MassDOT could diversify its investments to further support greenhouse gas emission reduction efforts. MassDOT is specifically interested in capital subsidy and direct incentive compensation strategies.

 Shannon Greenwell is a Transportation Planner with MassDOT’s Office of Transportation Planning. As a planner within the Sustainable Transportation group, Shannon’s work focuses on the research, analysis and development of strategies that reduce transportation sector greenhouse gas emissions, ranging from capital investments in infrastructure, to wider-reaching programmatic interventions.

[1] Requires Massachusetts to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 80 percent below 1990 levels by 2050.

Plug-in and Ride: The Promise and Potential Challenges of Electric Buses

By Tracy Zafian, UMTC Research Fellow

The use of electric buses and other zero emission vehicles (ZEVs) holds great promise to help reduce vehicle emissions and promote a clearer, less polluting transportation sector.

Transit bus systems offer a great venue for deploying and testing the latest ZEV technologies. An estimated 40 U.S. transit systems now include electric-power buses as part of their fleet. To date, bus systems in California have been the greatest adopters of electric buses. The Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District began using electric buses in 2003 and currently has 14 in operation. Stanford University Transit presently has a fleet of 23 electric buses, which it launched in 2014. Foothill Transit in Northern California started using electric buses in 2010 and now has 30 in use. Foothill Transit has pledged to change all its buses over to electric power by 2030. Foothill Transit estimates that already, its annual electric buses eliminate the same amount of emissions as 2,424 gasoline-powered cars. A number of other California transit agencies have smaller fleets of electric buses.

Two UMTC Research Affiliates recently developed a comprehensive review of past and current electric bus deployments nationally. This research was led by Professor Eleni Christofa in Civil and Environmental Engineering and Professor Krystal Pollitt in Environmental Health Sciences. The review included discussions of the three main types of electric-power buses currently in use, and of different facets and impacts of transit agencies’ change to electric buses, including areas of challenge.

The primary type of electric bus in use today is the battery electric (BE) bus, and more than 20 U.S. transit agencies have incorporated BE buses into their operations, including the Worcester Regional Transit Authority (WRTA) and the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA). BE buses contain an onboard electric battery, which provides all their power. These batteries are typically re-charged through plug-in stations; BE buses also capture and then use energy from regenerative braking. BE buses have no direct vehicle emissions, but there may be atmospheric pollutants associated with the generation of electricity used for charging their onboard batteries. One potential challenge with BE buses is the short driving range (30 to 130 miles) before needing to be recharged, and the impact of the need for recharging on route scheduling. These buses will typically be recharged at bus stop charging stations during their routes for quick charges (5 to 15 minutes). Some transit agencies also utilize slower charging stations at a central location such as a bus garage, for when BE buses are out of service. Even with the quick charges, it is important that bus schedules be adjusted to reflect the charging time.

BE buses are more expensive to purchase than traditional diesel-engine buses ($750,000 per bus compared to $435,000 per bus, respectively); however, they have a longer expected lifespan than diesel buses. BE buses also save fuel and maintenance costs. Proterra has stated that overall, the lifecycle costs of BE and diesel buses are similar. The PVTA estimates that each of its BE buses will save the agency $448,000 combined in fuel and maintenance costs. The PVTA also calculated that each of its BE buses will eliminate 244,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions compared to their diesel bus counterparts.

The second main type of zero-emissions buses are those powered by hydrogen fuel cell batteries. Fuel cell battery electric (FCBE) buses store hydrogen onboard in storage tanks and the hydrogen is then supplied to the fuel cells to generate electricity to power the vehicles. There are no emissions, as water is the only by-product for FCBEs. There are presently seven U.S. transit agencies operating FCBE buses; the electric bus at the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) uses FCBE technology.

With a typical purchase price of $1.2 million, an FCBE bus is much more expensive to purchase than a conventional diesel bus ($435,000) or a compressed natural gas bus ($500,000). FCBE buses also require special training for bus operators on using the technology and special hydrogen storing and fueling facilities; these are typically located at bus depots to allow vehicles to be refueled at day’s end. On the plus side, the fuel economy for FCBE buses has been reported to be double that for compressed natural gas or diesel buses.

The third main type of zero emission buses are fuel cell hybrid (FCH) plug-in buses which use a combination of both onboard batteries and hydrogen fuel cells. To date, only 7 U.S. transit agencies have used FCH buses, mainly in short-term demonstration projects. Transit agencies that have tried FCH buses have consistently reported significant downtime for the buses, due to issues with the batteries, the fuel cell systems, and the hybrid integrator, and to challenges in diagnosing specific problems.

Currently, BE buses seem to hold the most promise for wider deployment and use.