The University of Georgia is planning to replace a third of its old diesel buses with fully electric buses in the next year. The new buses will provide lower cost, and more important, cleaner transportation, according to officials at the university. That is critical because the university bus system is the the second-busiest transit system in the state with 11 million annual riders and 59 diesel buses.
Governor Nathan Deal announced on June 22 that $10 million would be appropriated to the university to cover the cost of the fully electric buses. The money will come out of the federal GO! Transit Capital program.
According to Kevin Kirsche, the Director of Sustainability at UGA, these buses will replace the university’s oldest. The new buses will emit no pollution, will reduce fuel and maintenance cost by 84 percent and will save 171,000 gallons of fuel, according to a press release from the university. For Kirsche, these buses mark a turning point in how the university approaches transportation and demonstrate its commitment to building an eco-friendly campus.
“Our goal is to conserve resources and reduce waste so that we can function as an overall more sustainable campus. The idea here is that we will be able to replace about a third of the campus fleet with these buses and over time will replace more campus vehicles as they reach the end of their lifespan,” he said.
“The 2020 strategic plan, which this is a part of, looks out a decade to say what the core direction and principles are that we want to go into as a university. There are seven, including advancing the research enterprise. Sustainability is woven throughout. One of those focuses is on advancing campus sustainability specifically, including reducing the number of vehicles on campus by 20 percent and to increase alternative means of transportation.”
These alternative means of transportation may also include a carpool membership program by 2020. Though this program is in early developmental stages, Kirsche believes that it will be instrumental in shifting student focus to sustainable transportation, something that the university has sought to do and has done with varying levels of success for years.
“Right now, through parking services, students can register for the alternative transportation program. It’s an incentive program. We’re going to be revising it in a year or so. We also have carpool commuting options now. If you’re registered, you can get two passes to park on campus every month, but students don’t necessarily know about it,” Kirsche said. “We’re jumping into a transportation parking study now. We’ve hired an outside company to do studies to look at incentive programs like ATP and to refine them, but also to look at bigger picture things like how students get to campus and how parking services parking rate structures work. We’re also asking the right questions. How can we coordinate with Athens Transit? Are there more satellite parking opportunities? Can we bike share or car share? We want to provide more options for getting to campus.”
“We’re also going to be studying a rail line running down the eastern edge of campus,” Kirsche continued. “The university doesn’t own the rail line or have access to it, but we’re advocating for access. I’d like to see a commuter rail with a trail. That’d be a great transportation opportunity that could reach out around the whole Clarke County area. Ultimately, it could even be a train to Atlanta.” When asked whether or not developing a rail line seemed like a likely plan, Kirsche did not comment. He did state, however, that the idea was more a hope of his than a direct plan from the university.
This is not the first time that the possibility of a rail line to Atlanta has been explored in Athens. For the last thirty years, there have been rumors of plans to create commuter and intercity rails across Georgia, though these have failed in the face of highway transportation and budgeting costs. According to reports from former Atlanta City Councilman Douglas Alexander published in the Atlanta Journal Constitution, plans to develop rail lines may not be completely unrealistic, though they are unlikely. “Athens-to-Atlanta and Macon-to-Atlanta trains, according to state studies could carry lots of people and help lighten some of the traffic burden on the highways by providing a reliable and affordable transportation alternative for commuters,” Alexander wrote.
Even so, other directives included in the university’s 2020 strategic plan will certainly allow for environmental improvement. They include a commitment to drastically reducing UGA’s environmental footprint, reducing energy use, implementing methods of using and reusing water resources, providing sustainable food and transportation options, purchasing environmentally responsible products and equipment, increasing recycling and drastically reducing overall waste.
“We’re moving in the right direction, but we’ve got a long way to go,” said Kirsche. “We’re putting recycling bins everywhere, we’re building the right buildings. We’re making plans, but we’re not always using them well. We need the campus community to get involved with our goals.”