Going outside to get some fresh air shouldn’t put your health at risk. In Houston, unfortunately, outside air is unhealthy far too often. On average, the city has over 26 unhealthy air days each year and is eight times over the safe limit for ground-level ozone pollution. Breathing ozone pollution can cause acute respiratory issues, including asthma attacks

While ozone levels are not entirely controllable— ground level ozone is more easily formed in high heat and sunny places like Houston— primary ingredients in ground-level ozone formation are nitrogen oxides emitted by vehicle tailpipes. Luckily, Houston METRO is starting to tackle dirty air head on.

The majority of buses in Houston are still fully or partly powered by diesel. In addition to fueling ozone pollution, this fossil fuel has also been linked to asthma, bronchitis and cancer. Diesel-powered vehicles also play a large role in the climate crisis. With the transportation sector now the number one source of carbon emissions in Texas and across the country, using dirty fuels like diesel have become an even more urgent problem for people and our planet. Climate change will only further fuel harmful air pollution as temperatures climb, and Texas is already seeing the devastating impacts of intense heat waves this past month. 

While we need to support people buying electric cars, the cleanest car you can drive is the one you don’t drive at all. Switching to public transit is a huge step toward reducing air pollution and combating the climate crisis. While public transit is a greener choice, there is now technology to make our commutes kinder to our lungs and climate: electric buses. With zero tailpipe emissions, electric buses can drive us toward a healthier future.

Electric buses are not only cleaner than their diesel equivalents, but studies prove that they cost less than their diesel and hybrid counterparts over their lifetime due to decreased maintenance and fuel costs. Across Texas, cities concerned with public health, climate change and annual budgets are transitioning to electric buses.

In 2020, Austin’s transit system Capital Metro received 12 all-electric buses and plans to purchase 200 more over the next five years in its efforts to transition to an 100 percent electric fleet. Dallas has operated seven electric buses since 2018, and VIA Metropolitan Transit, which services San Antonio, announced this year that it will add eight more electric buses to its fleet.

Here in Houston, METRO has taken important strides towards electrifying its own fleet. In 2016, the transportation agency debuted its first fully electric bus in a 90-day trial. This past March, the transit agency piloted one of the nation’s first automated electric shuttle buses to service local universities and Houston’s Third Ward neighborhood. 

On Thursday, METRO announced that it would add 20 new zero-emission electric buses and 10 electric cutaway shuttles to their fleet starting in spring of next year. This announcement came as part of METRO’s newly proposed goal of transitioning their entire fleet to zero-emission vehicles by 2030. 

Environmental advocates, health officials, and community members have long advocated for METRO to fast track its adoption of electric buses. In 2019, TexPIRG, Environment Texas and over 20 other community leaders sent a letter to Houston METRO urging them to transition to an all-electric bus fleet. 

After years of advocacy, METRO’s move toward fleet electrification is encouraging for the future of our transportation sector. Electric buses ensure that we are breathing healthier air today and living in a safer climate tomorrow. Hopefully, other Texas bus agencies and cities will follow METRO’s direction by making bold electric bus commitments of their own.