Matthew O. Tucker is the executive director of the North County Transit District.
The North County Transit District recently received funding to construct a hydrogen fueling station. The station is a critical piece of infrastructure needed to meet a state mandate that transit agencies advance plans to place zero-emission vehicles into service.
Transit agencies executing zero-emission vehicle strategies manage many challenges implementing these new technologies while maintaining cost efficiency and providing reliable service.
Hydrogen vehicles meet state zero-emission vehicle requirements for transit agencies and most closely match NCTD’s operating requirement that buses remain in service for up to 300 miles without requiring refueling. NCTD is also placing battery electric vehicles into service in early 2022. While battery electric vehicles are viable for shorter routes, the current technology does not have the range or reliability to meet all of NCTD’s operational requirements.
The transition to zero-emission vehicles is just one part of NCTD’s positive environmental impact. In one year, NCTD’s transit services and freight services, operated by BNSF Railway on NCTD’s line, reduced auto miles traveled by 46 million and truck miles by 1.4 million, saving 1 million gallons of fuel and eliminating 14,000 short tons of greenhouse gas emissions. With the funding and implementation of planned enhancements to its system, including using zero- and lower-emission vehicles, adding service, and increasing frequencies, the environmental impact of NCTD’s operations will grow to an estimated savings of 54,000 short tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually by 2050. That’s a real and tangible environmental benefit — not greenwashing.
Hydrogen production does impact the environment and should be more environmentally efficient. Increased operations of hydrogen technology will spur investment and enhance the scalability of technology to help achieve those efficiencies.
Environmental solutions must be assessed holistically — evaluated by both the environmental benefit and the environmental impact necessary to achieve that benefit. However, it would be short sighted to ignore what is good or better for the environment while pursuing what’s best. Deploying zero-emission transit vehicles is a positive step forward for our region.