The Daily Tar Heel

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Tuesday September 28th

Chapel Hill Transit to use electric cars, buses in move toward sustainable future

One of the electric cars that is set to be joining Chapel Hill Transit’s fleet is charging. Photo courtesy of Brian M. Litchfield.
Buy Photos One of the electric cars that is set to be joining Chapel Hill Transit’s fleet is charging. Photo courtesy of Brian M. Litchfield.

Chapel Hill Transit is set to begin using electric buses and cars in a move toward more sustainability.

Brian Litchfield, the director of Chapel Hill Transit, said 16 electric cars have been purchased so far, and these vehicles will replace their gasoline counterparts that have reached the end of their useful life.

Litchfield also said three electric buses will be in service after they arrive between July and August. The department plans to order an additional seven buses, which will arrive in late 2022 or early 2023, he said.

“Chapel Hill Transit’s use of electric buses is an important step in continuing our community’s reduction of greenhouse gas emissions,” Michael Piehler, UNC chief sustainability officer and special assistant to the chancellor for sustainability, said.

The Town of Chapel Hill, Orange County and UNC are partnered with the transit system, Litchfield said, to push toward a greener future.

Chapel Hill Transit's move to electric cars has been met with enthusiasm from activists and students.

“Any step towards lower emissions is encouraging,” Julia Straight, a rising sophomore and member of The North Carolina Public Interest Research Group, said. “I’m definitely more likely to use Chapel Hill transportation now that it’s becoming more sustainable.”

But the transition to electric vehicles is not without its challenges, Litchfield said. The electric cars — all of which are Nissan LEAFs — are inaccessible to individuals with disabilities, he said.

He said Chapel Hill Transit is working to identify which midsize vehicles could allow for the transportation of people using wheelchairs or other mobility devices.

Litchfield said he is hopeful that as the use of electric cars becomes more widespread, solutions for inaccessibility will be available.

Straight said introducing electric vehicles is a step in the right direction, but it plays just one of many roles in combatting climate change.

“Three electric buses aren’t going to change Chapel Hill’s carbon footprint,” Straight said. “The Town of Chapel Hill needs to plan on making large, continuous strides towards sustainability."

Litchfield said he hopes Chapel Hill Transit's move to electric cars will inspire others in the community to follow suit.

UNC and the Town of Chapel Hill already have worked closely to develop initiatives and strategies to work toward creating a more sustainable community, Piehler said.

The implementation of electric vehicles also is part of UNC's Climate Action Plan, a 15-year plan that aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Over 75 percent of the short-term strategies have been put into motion since the plan’s publication in 2009.

“We can only control what we can control," Litchfield said. "So, we have made the choice to move towards zero-emission vehicles. We've taken the lead in doing that and hope to continue to be a leader in that our efforts will influence other departments and other agencies.”

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