Philadelphia SEPTA Clean Buses

This grant provides funding for a project to improve bus stops and replace diesel buses with zero-emission vehicles in the Philadelphia region through SEPTA.

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People wait for a SEPTA bus at the Wissahickon Transportation Center in Philadelphia on April 28, 2020. (Getty/Bastiaan Slabbers)
  • Project name: Philadelphia SEPTA Clean Buses

  • Program: Federal Transit Authority Bus and Low- or No-Emission Grant Awards

  • Law: Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act

  • Recipient: Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA)

  • Investment amount: $23,300,000

  • City: Philadelphia region

  • State: Pennsylvania

  • Congressional districts: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6

  • Construction start date: February 2023

This profile is part of a project that finds and tracks the public and private sector investments generated or supported by three of the Biden administration’s economic laws. These laws make investments in the American people, helping to grow the middle class, lowering the cost of living, and setting up America to better compete and cooperate in the world. Pulling directly from several sources, this catalog provides users with publicly available information such as the number of jobs created, workforce training partnerships, and storytellers benefiting from particular projects, among other detailed information. The profile below expands on the economic, practical, and climate impacts of just one of the 35,000 investments that can be found in the Biden Administration Investment Tracker. It may be updated to account for future project developments.

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The Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) in Philadelphia will use approximately $23 million from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to improve bus stops and purchase 10 fuel cell electric buses. The result will be less air and noise pollution from public transportation, two issues that disproportionately affect communities of color.

Historical context

  • SEPTA provides public transportation into and within Philadelphia as well as serving the surrounding Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery counties.” – Visit Philly, last accessed June 2023
  • SEPTA is the nation’s sixth-largest public transportation system — with train, subway, trolley and bus lines serving a 2,200-square-mile region.” –, April 21, 2021

Public transit is an equity issue:

  • “We cannot fully address the systemic racial disparities among the city’s residents, recover from the current economic crisis, and fight the climate crisis without investing in public transportation.” – City of Philadelphia, February 22, 2021
  • “Residents of color spend an average of 12 minutes per day longer than White residents getting to and from work.​” – City of Philadelphia, February 22, 2021
  • “Transit is a tool to addressing health inequities​.” – City of Philadelphia, February 22, 2021

Project summary

  • “DOT’s Federal Transit Authority awarded $23.3 million to the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) to improve bus depots and support SEPTA’s transition to a fleet of entirely zero-emission vehicles.” – The White House, February 2023
  • “The money will pay for electrical upgrades and installation of backup generators that could charge electric buses if conventional power went out.” – WHYY, September 6, 2022
  • “This funding comes from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Low-No Grant Program and Grants for Buses and Bus Facilities Competitive Program, the purpose of which is to invest in bus and bus facilities improvement projects, including replacing, rehabilitating, purchasing or leasing buses or related equipment, and rehabilitating, purchasing, constructing or leasing bus-related facilities. The Low-No Program provides funding for the transition of the Nation’s transit vehicles to the lowest polluting and most energy efficient transit vehicles.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA), August 16, 2022
  • “‘We are currently evaluating available technologies to determine which type of zero emission vehicle is best for our unique operating environment,’ Richards said. ‘We anticipate starting large-scale procurement of zero emission vehicles in 2026, and SEPTA will invest between $105 and $140 million every year between 2026 and 2034 to transition to a zero emission fleet as we have developed our zero emission vehicle master plan.’” – WHYY, September 6, 2022

In February 2023, SEPTA purchased 10 fuel cell electric buses, partially subsidized by the Low- or No-Emission Vehicle program grant:

  • “SEPTA is exploring the new FCEBs for operation across the entire bus network. These 10 vehicles will operate out of the Midvale District, which is SEPTA’s largest bus depot. These will be added to one of the cleanest bus fleets in the nation, as over 90% of SEPTA’s current buses are electric-diesel hybrids.” – SEPTA, February 28, 2023

Outcomes, improvements, and practical impact

  • “The federal investment will help the agency move towards its goal of reducing the mass transit agency’s emissions to zero … by 2040.” – WHYY, September 6, 2022
  • “The investment will also help existing technicians upgrade their skills to convert from diesel maintenance to handling the new high-tech vehicles.” – WHYY, September 6, 2022

Climate impact

Zero-emission buses will benefit the region through:

  • Cleaner air
    • “Lowering SEPTA’s emissions of CO2 and other greenhouse gases. This aligns with climate goals from the State of Pennsylvania, the City of Philadelphia, and others.” – SEPTA, last accessed April 2023
    • “FCEBs are powered by electricity derived from hydrogen fuel cells, resulting in zero tailpipe emissions and improved air quality for riders, neighbors, and communities.” – SEPTA, February 28, 2023
  • Less noise pollution
    • Reducing noise compared to diesel and hybrid buses. Noise pollution impacts the health and well-being of humans and wildlife. – SEPTA, last accessed April 2023

Racial equity and justice impact

Environmental justice for communities of color:

  • “Decreasing SEPTA’s emissions of local air pollutants, such as Nitric Oxide (NOx) and fine particulate matter, that cause heart and lung disease. These emissions currently have disproportionate impacts on communities of color and low-income areas in the region.” – SEPTA, last accessed April 2023
  • “SEPTA’s ZEB fleet conversion plan will include equity considerations to prioritize communities that may face disproportionate pollution burdens.” – SEPTA, last accessed April 2023
  • “Deployment of ZEBs in each of SEPTA’s bus districts will prioritize benefits to low-income areas and communities of color in the region, using geographic analysis of where these communities are in relation to bus routes and bus districts.” – SEPTA, last accessed April 2023
  • Map showing “Percentage of population below poverty level in relation to SEPTA’s Bus District.” – SEPTA, last accessed April 2023

Economic impact 

  • “The funding will also help create jobs within SEPTA.” – CBS News Philadelphia, September 6, 2022

Official supporting statements 

  • U.S. Sen. Bob Casey: “We’re here today to celebrate an investment, one of many investments, one of the best investments the federal government’s made in a long time in SEPTA, not only in the buses and the mechanics.” – WHYY, September 6, 2022
  • U.S. Sen. Bob Casey: “The infrastructure law is already improving public transit across Pennsylvania by providing dedicated funds to important projects that will support service and reduce harmful emissions. … In Philadelphia and its suburbs, thousands of riders rely on SEPTA to get to work and school, to connect with family and friends. When Pennsylvanians can’t rely on public transportation to get to work, our entire region suffers. This funding will not only help SEPTA improve its busing system, it will also fulfill two major goals of the infrastructure law—creating jobs while tackling the climate crisis.” – U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, August 16, 2022
  • SEPTA General Manager Leslie Richards: “‘SEPTA is committed to converting to a zero emission bus fleet by 2040,’ Richards said. ‘We are finalizing the next version of our zero emission vehicle master plan and this playbook will guide our efforts to putting clean, zero emission buses throughout the communities we serve.’” – WHYY, September 6, 2022
  • U.S. Rep. Dwight Evans (D-PA): “‘Pennsylvania is the model that I believe we have for the whole nation, this is what we need to do to generate jobs and opportunities.’” – WHYY, September 6, 2022

Selected clips

  • “SEPTA gets $23 million for adapting bus depots for electric and hybrid vehicles” – WHYY, September 6, 2022
  • “SEPTA receives funding to help transition to all zero-emission vehicles” – CBS News Philadelphia, September 6, 2022
  • “5 projects moving forward in Philly thanks to new federal infrastructure funding” – Billy Penn, August 17, 2022

The positions of American Progress, and our policy experts, are independent, and the findings and conclusions presented are those of American Progress alone. A full list of supporters is available here. American Progress would like to acknowledge the many generous supporters who make our work possible.

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