Step By Step, Pace Suburban Bus Works Toward Greener Future With Zero-Emissions Transition

Pace Suburban Bus representatives gathered recently with elected officials to celebrate Pace’s first-ever, battery electric bus. (Photo courtesy of Pace)

By Melinda Metzger, Executive Director, Pace Suburban Bus

On a blustery day this past January in the Chicago area, staff and Board members with Pace Suburban Bus gathered with elected officials from all levels to celebrate an important milestone in Pace’s history.

From our Southwest Division garage, attendees cheered and threw confetti as Pace’s first-ever, battery electric bus (BEB) exited the facility and began its inaugural run serving the many passengers who rely on Pace Route 381 along 95th Street in Chicago’s southwest suburbs.

I was honored to attend the momentous occasion with U.S. Senator Dick Durbin and many others. The debut of our BEB represents a new chapter in Pace’s near 40-year history as the premier suburban public transportation provider for one of the largest bus service areas in the United States. As I shared during the ribbon-cutting event, the debut of the BEB builds on Pace’s legacy of progress and innovation.

It marked the first step to fulfilling our Project Zero commitment, an ambitious promise to create a more sustainable region for generations to come. As a major public transportation provider that operates hundreds of vehicles, Pace takes our responsibility as an environmental steward seriously. To that end, our Project Zero initiative aims to convert the entire Pace fleet of over 700 buses to zero-emission vehicles by 2040.

But what many who attended the ribbon-cutting event earlier this year did not fully realize is the sheer amount of work it took to reach this important milestone.

Since we received our first BEB in 2022, Pace operators, mechanics, and staff have worked to update Pace’s operations and maintenance practices to accommodate the new vehicles and associated infrastructure. We had to test and retest the bus to better understand the bus’s capabilities, its battery range, and its performance during all seasons. As technology continues to advance, I am confident that Pace will be ready to adapt to these changes so we can efficiently and effectively implement zero-emission vehicles.

The work involved is more than the bus itself. Many of Pace’s garages are aging, a dynamic that requires my agency to assess our facilities and power demands and make the necessary improvements.

All these issues can pose logistical challenges for any transit agency already grappling with limited resources and constrained budgets, let alone at a time when transit agencies are facing a nationwide operator shortage and dramatically changing travel habits brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

To commit to a zero-emissions future, transit agencies also must navigate a fledgling market for zero-emission vehicles where manufacturing delays are common, and suppliers can come and go quickly.

These are legitimate challenges. For Pace, we remain focused on ensuring our Project Zero transition is carefully planned in accordance with the resources available. We continue to build and nurture our relationships with elected officials who remain instrumental in helping us receive the funding we need to purchase zero-emission vehicles.

For years, our planning team has been studying both the needs of the Pace fleet and our 10 divisions to make sure we’re fully equipped to operate a 100 percent zero-emissions fleet by 2040.

We remain committed to a thoughtful rollout while realizing we need to be nimble enough to adapt plans around emerging technologies and the challenges facing the U.S. bus manufacturing sector.

We’re encouraged by the Federal Transit Administration’s recent efforts to make it easier on transit agencies to procure zero-emission vehicles, build facilities, and develop the workforce with skills to master these new technologies. And we continue to assess all our options with our zero-emission transition, as we monitor the use of hydrogen energy and other alternative systems that could one day reliably power cleaner buses.

We continue to see effective results with this approach. Nearly a month ago, we received our first-ever battery electric paratransit bus, which will soon be tested before it starts serving our many riders with disabilities. We also expect to receive 22 additional BEB buses by the end of 2024.

Step by step, we’re making progress toward our Project Zero commitment while realizing the landscape can shift at any given moment. Transformative change isn’t usually easy. But for Pace, we see it as a necessity to propel the communities we serve toward a greener tomorrow.

Pace Suburban Bus safely and efficiently moves people to work, school, and other regional destinations with its family of public transportation services. Pace offers affordable and environmentally responsible transit options for the residents of 274 municipalities in Cook, Will, DuPage, Kane, Lake, and McHenry counties in Illinois. The backbone of Chicago’s suburbs, Pace serves tens of thousands of daily riders. One of the largest bus services in North America, Pace covers 3,677 square miles, an area nearly the size of Connecticut and about 15 times the size of the city of Chicago. Pace’s innovative approach to public transportation gives the agency a national reputation as an industry leader. Visit pacebus.com.

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