By: Stephanie Klein
Date: March 15, 2021
About: Performance Oversight Hearing on the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (Metro)
To: Washington, DC, City Council Committee of the Whole
Chairman Mendelson and members of the Committee, thank you for the opportunity to testify today. I am the DC Field Organizer for Moms Clean Air Force —a movement of over 1 million moms and dads nationwide united to protect our children’s health from air pollution and climate change. I live in Ward 1 and am a parent to two young daughters, ages 4 and 6.
As a longtime DC resident, I have personally utilized Metro for transportation for nearly 20 years. Like hundreds of thousands of people living in the DMV, I have relied upon Metro trains and buses to get to and from work, and trusted them to transport my kids to and from school.
I recognize that WMATA has done much hard work and focused a lot of resources over the past several years to improve track safety and customer satisfaction. I also appreciate that WMATA has done its best to continue service to essential workers and others during the Covid 19 pandemic, in spite of a major budget shortfall. WMATA has shown that it takes its commitment to providing the people of the Washington, DC Region with reliable public transit seriously.
As a parent and advocate, though, I am concerned by the fact that DC has fallen behind other major cities in terms of electrifying its bus fleet. Cities around the country, including New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles have committed to electrifying their bus fleets over the next 15-20 years. They are already in the process of procuring and operating hundreds of electric transit buses. Although WMATA has engaged in some planning to eventually transition its fleet to zero emission vehicles, to date it has only one electric bus in its fleet. And it has contracted to purchase roughly 700 new diesel and CNG buses through 2025. This demonstrates a movement in the wrong direction, and does not align with our city’s mandate to electrify 50 percent of its bus fleet by 2030 and 100 percent by 2045, as laid out in the Clean Energy DC Omnibus Act.
Putting off a transition to zero emission buses has real and immediate impacts on our Region’s air quality. WMATA operates a fleet of 1,500 buses in the Washington Region, the majority of which are diesel-fueled (with about one quarter fueled by natural gas). Fossil fuel-powered buses emit large amounts of toxic pollution into the air that causes cancer, triggers asthma attacks and makes climate change worse.
There is no safe level of exposure to diesel exhaust, especially for children. And the pollution doesn’t have to be visible in the form of a big black plume to be harmful. It’s there even when you can’t see it. On top of the pollution we are exposed to in our outdoor air, people who ride Metrobuses are exposed to even higher levels of exhaust. Estimates indicate that air pollutant levels in the interior cabin of a diesel bus can be up to five times higher than what a driver directly in front of the bus experiences. Because children’s lungs haven’t fully developed and they breathe at a more rapid rate than adults, the impact of this harmful pollution is exacerbated in school-age children. The result? Respiratory illness, worsening asthma and even poor performance in class.
In DC, a city with one of the highest childhood asthma rates in the country, all of this means that many families, particularly those in Wards 7 and 8 where air quality is the worst, must engage in the difficult and delicate balance of weighing the physical and mental health of their children each day. For kids with asthma, playing outdoors on a high ozone day might mean triggering an allergy attack.
Moms Clean Air Force applauds WMATA for the work it has already done to begin planning for a transition to a zero emission bus fleet. But the implementation cannot wait. Moms Clean Air Force, along with the DC Chapter of Sierra Club, the Union of concerned Scientists, and more than 20 other partner organizations are calling on WMATA to commit to electrifying its bus fleet by the year 2045. We ask that Council support us in our efforts and do what it can to persuade WMATA to undertake this important work.
Thank you for the opportunity to give testimony today. I am happy to answer any questions that you may have.