Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Federal money for electric buses could help Ohio's rural communities

 A man sits in the driver seat of a white bus, wearing a blue mask. Fostoria Community Hospital sits in the background.
Courtesy of Seneca Area Transportation Facebook
Seneca Crawford Area Transportation is one of six rural communities in Ohio that received federal funds for electric buses.

Ten Ohio communities will be getting money from the federal government to put toward greener public transportation – including six in rural areas.

The funds, from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, will help transit departments to replace their aging buses with new electric ones and increase the size of their fleets. Advocates in rural communities believe the funding will help small towns build the infrastructure they need to embrace electric vehicles.

Seneca-Crawford Area Transportation (SCAT), in northern Ohio, received more than $3 million to buy 10 new electric buses, said Mary Habig, transit director at SCAT.

“Our fleet is aging,” Haybig said. “And I think electric vehicles are the future. Why not try it?”

Improved infrastructure

Some of SCAT’s buses are over a decade old with more than 200,000 miles on them, said Habig. That means they often require maintenance that drives up operating costs.

“We're replacing transmissions, we are replacing alternators,” she said. “[There’s] a lot of serious repairs right now with these aging vehicles.”

With the federal funding, Habig said bus-related costs will likely go down, since they’ll be able to retire some of the old and costly buses. That will at least be the case in the short-term, until the department needs to replace the electric vehicles’ batteries, she said.

Most importantly, she said the investment will also help the rural area to scale up its infrastructure for electric vehicles.

The rural area has longer and more remote routes than large metros, which can be a challenge for electric vehicles. Habig said the grant will allow them to build four new charging stations in the counties’ biggest cities, like Tiffin and Bucyrus. And, she said, they can rely on nearby urban areas for longer trips.

“With Toledo being part of this grant too, they will have charging stations. We’re hoping to partner with them,” she said.

The money is a part of a flurry of funding coming to Ohio to expand electric vehicle infrastructure. This month, DeWine also announced a plan to use federal funds to set up more than 20 charging stations across the state.

Expanding access

Habig said the electric buses will help expand the number of rural Ohioans it can serve.

“When you live in rural Ohio, you don't have a doctor's office a minute away,” Habig said. “Some people are on a bus an hour to get to medical care. They just don't have the access to drive and some people just can't afford vehicles.”

Although she admits the transit system is often underutilized, Habig said she hopes this grant can help bring more people onto its buses. She said while some of the funding will go towards replacing old vehicles, it also increases the number of buses in its fleet.

“We have to have funding, and vehicles and employees to get to every place. We can't serve 100%,” Habig said. “That’s 10 more vehicles on the road. That’s exciting.”

Kendall Crawford is a reporter for The Ohio Newsroom. She most recently worked as a reporter at Iowa Public Radio.