California, Midwest Would Gain Jobs from Greater Government Investment in Green Transit Buses

October 26, 2009


Contacts: Sean Crowley, 202-572-3331,  
Kathryn Phillips, 916-893-8494,  

California, Midwest Would Gain Jobs from Greater Government Investment in Green Transit Buses
Timely Study Coincides with Congressional Debate over Transportation Bill Extension

(Washington, DC - October 26, 2009) Increasing government investment in conventional and green transit bus systems would create high-quality manufacturing jobs, especially in states with double-digit unemployment rates, while significantly cutting auto-related global warming pollution, according to a new report released today. The high unemployment states include: California (12.2%), Indiana (10%), Michigan (15.3%), and Ohio (10.1%).

The study is timely because Congress is debating renewal of the federal transportation bill, which provides funds to help local bus systems purchase equipment. The current transportation bill expired in September, but was extended until later this month, and is expected to be extended longer as Congress continues developing the renewed bill.

Current U.S. transportation policy favors highway spending and deemphasizes public transit, so bus orders are small and sporadic, making it difficult for the bus industry to grow, according to the study. “If federal, state, and local policy were to shift to a clear, sustained commitment to public transit, the nation would have the manufacturing capability to meet the resulting increased demand for transit buses,” the study concludes.

Entitled “Public Transit Buses: A Green Choice Gets Greener,” the study is the 12th installment of the series, “Manufacturing Climate Solutions: Carbon-Reducing Technologies and U.S. Jobs,” prepared by researchers at the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness and sponsored by Environmental Defense Fund.

While domestic uncertainty about transit funding stymies bus manufacturing for U.S. markets, the study notes that U.S. companies still have managed to establish themselves as global leaders in hybrid bus manufacturing. However, European firms are rapidly catching up, in part because of their governments’ long-term commitment to public transit.

The United States was an early leader of compressed natural gas (CNG) transit bus technology development, the most common type of green bus worldwide, and already has an extensive refueling infrastructure for CNG, with CNG pipelines connecting the entire continental United States. Bus fleets throughout the United States have incorporated CNG, including the Los Angeles Transit Authority, which operates 2,200 CNG buses, comprising 88 percent of its fleet. However, diesel-electric hybrid buses are rapidly overtaking CNG as the primary green bus option in the United States.

Early testing for hydrogen-electric hybrids is ongoing in California, at Sunline Transit, Santa Barbara Valley Transit Authority and AC Transit, and in Connecticut at CTTRANSIT. Proterra, a firm developing an electric hybrid transit bus, plans by June 2010 to have infrastructure in place for the Foothills Transit Agency, operating in the San Gabriel and Pomona Valleys in California, with four more cities to come online afterwards.

U.S. manufacturing for transit buses and components is located in nearly every state in the eastern United States, with the highest concentrations in Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

“Many of these jobs are in Midwestern states deeply affected by the recession, where manufacturing employment and capacity, especially in the motor vehicle industry, are crucial for maintaining a leadership position throughout the recovery period and beyond,” said Marcy Lowe, lead author of the study and a research associate at the Duke University Center on Globalization, Governance & Competitiveness. “Many of these transit jobs are high-quality, long-term positions.”

Other studies have identified transit as an important component for reducing both air and global warming pollution because it provides commuters an alternative to single-passenger vehicles.

“We’ve known for awhile that transit is good for the environment,” said Kathryn Phillips, a transportation policy expert with Environmental Defense Fund based in Sacramento. “This study shows that transit investment also is good for the American manufacturers and American jobs.”

“We need a 21st Century transportation policy that is smarter, safer, cleaner and provides more options,” said James Corless, director of Transportation for America. “Investing in green transit will help achieve that new direction and create good-paying American jobs at a time when we desperately need them.”

The number of commuters using public transit to go to work increased from nearly six million in 2004 to 6.8 million in 2007. When gasoline prices soared in 2008, U.S. public transit use increased even more sharply, although official figures are not yet available. Buses are the main U.S. transit mode, accounting for 40 percent of all transit passenger miles.

Continuing growth in transit demand could translate into larger and more consistent bus orders. However, domestic demand is heavily dependent on the availability of public funding for bus transit, an inherent constraint that is naturally worsened by the current economic recession. Bus manufacturers in the United States primarily manufacture on a built-to-order basis.

“Public transit spending is not sufficiently steady or reliable to encourage growth in the industry,” the report notes. “Firms may receive increased orders only to see them fall in subsequent years when funding levels drop and demand has already been satisfied. Many agencies can no longer meet federal financing formulas that require a local funding match of 20 percent.”

“Increasing government investment in bus transit systems could be our generations’ Works Progress Administration in terms of its economic and environmental impact,” concluded Phillips. “This report shows we have a great opportunity to create new manufacturing jobs during tough economic times and cut greenhouse gas emissions. We only need the political will to make it happen.”

To read the study, please visit


Environmental Defense Fund, a leading national nonprofit organization, represents more than 700,000 members. Since 1967, Environmental Defense Fund has linked science, economics, law and innovative private-sector partnerships to create breakthrough solutions to the most serious environmental problems. For more information about transit issues, visit