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The Riverside Transit Agency’s (RTA) move to zero-emission buses just took a big step. That’s because the U.S. Department of Transportation today awarded RTA a $5.1 million grant to buy five 40-foot hydrogen fuel cell electric buses, propelling the Agency’s ambitious goal of transitioning its directly operated fleet of compressed natural gas buses (CNG) to zero-emission vehicles.

The move to replace all 145 large buses is expected to happen in phases beginning in 2026. Smaller buses and trolleys, currently powered by CNG and unleaded gas, could also go zero emission.

News of the federal grant comes just a few weeks after RTA Chair and Temecula Mayor Pro Tem Zak Schwank, RTA Second Vice Chair and Canyon Lake Mayor Jeremy Smith and RTA Chief Executive Officer Kristin Warsinski visited Washington DC to advocate for more funding to support the Agency’s move to hydrogen fuel.

“RTA has always been a leader in eco-friendly transportation,” Schwank said. “Looking ahead, we are excited about continuing our tradition by making significant investments in zero-emission vehicles. The future is bright for RTA and federal funding coming our way will help us build a leaner, greener fleet.”

Smith said RTA is pleased to join transit agencies across America that are already developing and implementing projects to move to zero-emission buses.

“This funding will help our efforts to charge forward and make a real difference in the way public transportation is delivered in western Riverside County,” he said. “We are thrilled to receive this much-needed funding and appreciative of the support we’ve received on a national level.”

Of course, the federal funding headed RTA’s way is part of a larger picture. In all, $1.6 billion in federal grant money is headed to transit agencies, territories, and states across the country to invest in 150 bus fleets and facilities. Funded by President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, more than 1,100 of those vehicles will use zero-emissions technology, which helps meet the president’s goal of net-zero emissions by 2050.

This year’s funding alone will nearly double the number of no-emission transit buses on America’s roadways. For the first time, five percent of low- and no-emission bus funding will be used to train transit workers — including those working at RTA — on how to maintain and operate new clean bus technology.

“With today’s awards, we’re helping communities across America — in cities, suburbs, and rural areas alike — purchase 1,800 new buses and most of them are zero-emission,” said US. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg. “This announcement means more good jobs for people across the country, cleaner air in our communities and more affordable and reliable options to help people get to where they need to go.”

This isn’t the first federal grant that RTA has received to build a more eco-friendly fleet. Just a few months ago, the Agency netted a $8.7 million grant to build the hydrogen fueling stations at its Riverside and Hemet facilities to power its future fleet.

As part of the announcement Tuesday, the U.S. Department of Transportation also awarded RTA a second grant worth $1.6 million for the purchase and installation of solar panels at its Riverside and Hemet facilities, a move that will go a long way in reducing electricity costs and promoting a more environmentally friendly workplace.