In 2015, in the wake of an emissions cheating scandal, Volkswagen agreed to a $14.7 billion settlement in order to fund projects which promoted clean air. In late 2018, the University of Connecticut was awarded a $1.4 million grant from the settlement money in order to retire two old diesel buses and purchase two electric buses — one in Stamford and one in Storrs.
Since then, what have we heard from the UConn administration?
Zip. Zero. Crickets.
According to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP), who are responsible for distributing the Volkswagen settlement money, all grant awardees have until March 2020 to complete their projects. With under a year to go until this deadline, we haven’t even gotten confirmation that UConn has accepted the grant. The student body should be furious.
UConn regularly retires old buses that have outlived their usefulness. According to a 2018 report from the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the life-span of transit buses is 12 years, and can be pushed to 15 years if necessary. On DEEP’s website, they state that UConn’s grant will be used to replace two model year 2005 buses. These buses will have outlived their absolute maximum life span by 2020 and UConn will presumably be purchasing replacement buses — which should be electric buses, paid for by the grant. The grant also covers electric vehicle charging infrastructure. Accepting the $1.4 million is seemingly a no-brainer.
Electric buses would be a major boon to all people who frequent this campus. They emit less harmful pollutants and use less energy than their diesel counterparts. Research consistently shows that electric buses are cheaper to run and maintain than diesel buses — up to $400,000 per bus, according to one study. As battery technology continues to progress, electric buses have become increasingly reliable and trustworthy. And by investing in clean electric buses instead of dirty diesel buses, UConn would be doing its part to fight climate change and air pollution.
Since the grant was awarded, the administration has opted for opaqueness instead of transparency. There have been no official statements from the University mentioning the grant. Its only online trace is in the Fall 2018 newsletter from the UConn Office of Environmental Policy, in which they state: “We expect these [electric] buses to be shuttling students around UConn campuses by 2020.”
As it stands, this timeline seems highly unlikely. The administration has not even begun the procurement process for the buses, which can take several months.
What in the world is going on? Where are our electric buses? Why has the administration seemingly ignored this grant? What logical reason could the administration have for rejecting a $1.4 million grant that will increase air quality, decrease transportation costs and position UConn as a national leader in the fight against climate change?
The administration has failed to be transparent in the past, and they have failed to be transparent about this grant. We deserve answers, and we demand answers.