We are currently facing two challenges with enormous social impacts.
First, when the last Baby Boomer reaches age 65 by 2030, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 1 in 5 residents will be of retirement age. Our society is struggling to help the growing population of older adults live healthy, independent lives. And second, we are already living with the effects of the climate crisis and must act to protect our children’s future.
Via recently completed a strategic plan that will guide our efforts to address both challenges. We will increase our capacity to provide more paratransit and public transit services while remaining financially sound and becoming environmentally sustainable.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in 2019, the transportation sector generated 29% of the U.S.’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. That year, Via’s fleet of 135 vehicles provided about 1 million trips to our paratransit and public transit customers. The combined CO2 emissions from those trips totaled about 2,250 metric tons.
During the pandemic, state and local governments asked Via to expand our paratransit services into the Denver metro region, and Via agreed. As a result, we’re now serving an eight-county area with the expectation that we will significantly exceed 1 million trips per year in two years.
To achieve environmental sustainability, Via has adopted two net-zero goals for our fleets. By 2030, the HOP public transit buses we operate for the City of Boulder will have net-zero carbon emissions. By 2035, Via’s paratransit fleet of smaller buses and vehicles will have net-zero carbon emissions. Eliminating the GHG emissions associated with 1.5 to 2 million trips a year will significantly impact the local environment over time.
Reaching our net-zero goals requires a series of related capital projects. We’ve begun converting our fleets to battery-electric vehicles, but we might also acquire other types of zero-emission vehicles as they become more widespread and affordable.
Several years ago, Via converted 1 of the 15 diesel buses on Boulder’s HOP route to an electric-battery bus. Two months ago, Via and the City of Boulder took delivery of three new electric buses to replace three diesel buses in the fleet, bringing the number of electric HOP buses to four.
But acquiring electric vehicles is only part of the story. With the help of Microgrid Labs and Dr. Namit Singh, Via has designed and begun building the microgrid infrastructure needed for charging electric vehicles with renewable energy. A microgrid is a small-scale power grid that can operate separately from the traditional power grid.
In Phase 3 of the microgrid project, Via will add to the array of solar panels we currently have to cover most of Via’s site. When completed, the microgrid will store the solar energy captured by the panels in batteries and use those batteries to power the building, the HOP fleet, and part of the paratransit fleet.
By 2035, the paratransit fleet will be converted to electric vehicles. Charging all of them with renewable energy will require expansion beyond Via’s current property. This could be achieved by acquiring property for a solar array and charging plaza or partnering with other organizations to create a charging plaza with its own microgrid utilizing renewable energy.
Via has created a Net Zero Fund (viacolorado.org/netzero) for community members to support our net-zero transit projects. Even if we receive federal funds for parts of those projects, we must still provide the 20% local cost-share required for most federal transit grants.
Via and its local government partners believe that our net-zero goals and related projects could be a model for transit agencies across the country that want to act quickly and significantly impact GHG emissions.
Your donations to the Net Zero Fund will greatly reduce the amount of CO2 entering the atmosphere from Metro Denver and the northern Front Range. It is not too late to change our climate future, but we must act now.
To learn more about the fund and Via’s climate goals, contact Zoe DeVito at email@example.com or 720-507-8606.