RTD Investing in Electric Buses with VW Settlement Funds

State Directing $70 Million to Clean Transportation

June 20, 2019

Travis Madsen, Transportation Program Director
tmadsen@swenergy.org | 303-447-0078


(Denver, CO) – Last week, Colorado rolled out an updated plan for spending its $68.7 million share of funds available as a result of the Volkswagen (VW) emissions cheating scandal. The plan increases Colorado’s focus on clean, electric transportation, fulfilling one of the directives of Governor Polis’ first executive order, “Supporting a Transition to Zero Emission Vehicles.”

“This new plan steers Colorado in the right direction,” said Travis Madsen, Transportation Program Director at the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project. “Electric buses are cheaper, cleaner and more efficient than gas or diesel. Governments, agencies and businesses across Colorado should follow the state’s lead and replace old vehicles with efficient zero-emission versions going forward.”

The state began distributing VW funds in 2018. Some of the initial grants went to purchase school buses or garbage trucks fueled by propane or compressed natural gas. While cleaner than diesel, these vehicles are not zero-emission. They still emit pollution that threatens our health and causes global warming. This pollution is part of the reason why the nine-county region along Colorado’s Front Range will soon be reclassified as a Serious Non-attainment Area under federal smog pollution standards.

“Prioritizing these funds on electrification,” said Matthew Shmigelsky, transportation director at CLEER, “solidifies the state of Colorado as a nation leading market for innovation and adoption of new mobility technology, speeding the way to tackling the impacts of the climate crisis head on.”

The largest single grant from the first round of funding went to RTD, which is using the money to purchase 15 new electric buses. Under the new guidelines for the VW funds, future grants will focus entirely on this kind of pollution-free transportation.

“This new plan creates a key opportunity to drive our bus fleets into the future,” said Sophia Mayott-Guerrero, energy and transportation advocate at Conservation Colorado. “These funds, which are used wisely by transit districts and schools, can move Colorado forward on cleaner air and a healthier climate.”

With the new plan, Colorado will take maximum advantage of the opportunity to transform the VW scandal into a future of clean and efficient travel. This will help clean up Colorado’s air and protect our health, while also helping to ensure that there will be no more emissions cheating scandals.

The plan envisions granting all available money in five years or less. Almost half of the remaining funds will go towards zero-emission electric transit buses, similar to the electric ones RTD operates on the 16th Street Mall in Denver. About a third of the money will go towards school buses, and medium and heavy-duty trucks. Fifteen percent (the maximum allowed) will go toward light-duty electric vehicle charging stations in cities and towns, along key highway corridors, and at popular destinations like ski areas. Transit agencies, school districts, governments and businesses across the state are eligible to apply for funding.

“Transit agencies and school districts across the state should shift into high gear and transition their fleets to run on clean electricity,” said Emily Gedeon, Conservation Program Director with the Colorado Sierra Club, “We’re glad to see the state putting real money in to spark the transition.”

Zero-emission vehicles offer major air quality benefits for Colorado. But they also hold the promise to save transit agencies, bus riders, school districts — and taxpayers — a lot of money. For example, Greensboro, North Carolina estimates that it will save $300,000 to $350,000 on each of 10 electric buses the city recently purchased, compared to diesel. Part of that savings is due to the fact that electricity is cheaper than diesel fuel. (New electricity rates recently proposed by Xcel and other utilities like Holy Cross Energy will help transit agencies and others realize savings on electric vehicle charging.) Electric buses also cost significantly less to maintain, because they don’t need oil changes and have fewer moving parts.

“We’re 100% ready to see Colorado go 100% electric as fast as we can,” said Danny Katz, CoPIRG Director. “Volkswagen breached customers’ trust and put all of our health at risk. The best use of these settlement dollars is to speed up the transition to electric vehicles that reduce pollution and save people money every time they drive. We’re glad the Polis administration took this important step.”

The state will finalize the new VW settlement plan by mid-July. New grants will begin as soon as this fall.