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Penn Transit Services added four electric passenger vans to its fleet recently. Credit: William Bartoc

Penn Transit Services added four electric passenger vans to its fleet during Penn Climate Week, marking the service’s first-ever investment in electric vehicles.

The addition of the four new electric-powered vehicles — which comes as Penn strives to achieve carbon neutrality by 2042 — will save around 52 cubic tons of carbon emissions each year, according to Penn Today. The vehicles are currently serving the Penn FMC shuttle route, and they should remain in service for a duration of 10 to 12 years. The electricity-powered vans are marked with “zero emissions” written in bright green on the four vans’ Quaker blue.

Michael Bernhardt, who is the director of Penn Transit, told Penn Today that the initiative involved retrofitting Ford e-Transit cargo vans for passenger use. New electric passenger vehicles, he said, are often too small for Penn Transit's purposes and would have been substantially higher in cost.

With the addition of these electric passenger vans, four of Penn Transit’s 50 vehicles are now electric, and that number will likely grow, according to Bernhardt. The department has already invested in higher-capacity vehicle chargers and hopes to secure grant funding to buy more vehicles and even larger, bus-capable chargers. 

Division of Business Services Vice President Marie Witt told Penn Today that “Penn Transit reached record ridership in FY2022, transporting over 325,000 passengers.”

Penn is not the first of its peer institutions to add electric vehicles to its shuttle fleet. Last fall, Harvard University replaced four of its biodiesel shuttle buses with full-sized electric buses and has plans to replace the rest of its fleet, according to The Harvard Crimson. 

Princeton University began running its first electric bus in October, and it will have another sixteen in operation by the end of February. Charlie Tennyson, director of transportation and parking services at Princeton, said that this will make it the first Ivy League to fully electrify its bus fleet, according to a press release by Princeton.

A new app, PennTransit Mobile, is set to replace PennRides as the place to use Penn Transit’s on-request shuttle service. The app is currently available for download and will come into service on Nov. 26.