Center Update
The Widespread Issue of Inadequate Training for BEB Maintenance
Research from CALSTART shows that 2,800 zero emission buses (ZEBs) have been delivered or were on order in the U.S. as of December 2020, a 24% jump from 2019. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal provides more than $5 billion in funding for public transit agencies to adopt low- and no-emissions buses.1 Fifteen states and Washington, DC have followed California’s lead in signing an agreement to switch all heavy-duty trucks, vans, and buses over to running on electricity by 2050.2 This is an investment in public transportation, the environment, and the U.S. economy.
Battery Electric Buses (BEBs) are currently the most prevalent zero-emission bus technology in the U.S. and make up the bulk of U.S. transit agency ZEB procurements. Despite the boom in sales, technicians at most agencies are unprepared to maintain these highly advanced buses. To help alleviate the gap in frontline technician training on BEB maintenance, the International Transportation Learning Center (ITLC) worked with multiple Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) to deliver three virtual learning sessions on BEB familiarization. During one of the webinars, attendees responded to a series of poll questions indicating their level of involvement with and preparedness for BEBs. Of the approximately 50 responses received, 55 percent said their agencies had not provided any training on BEBs. Of those that had received training, 77 percent rated the BEB training provided as “poor.” Additionally, an astonishing 83 percent of respondents to a poll during the 2021 Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Legislative Conference felt their members were not adequately trained to work on ZEBs.
Poll from 2021 ATU Legislative Conference
These poll results give a hint of what is (and isn’t) occurring at transit agencies across the country. As ZEBs become the norm in the industry, many agencies have been relying almost exclusively on extended warranties to cover repairs and have not provided their maintenance workforce with the training needed to safely and efficiently maintain and repair these buses and related charging infrastructure. This path of relying too heavily on extended warranties may appear attractive in the short-term, but will prove disastrous down the road. The inability of technicians to maintain and repair ZEBs will place agencies at the mercy of third-party providers not only in terms of costs, but in delays as agencies wait for repair services to be delivered.  
The transit workforce is also understandably concerned regarding the safety of new electrical equipment. Going from traditional low-voltage bus electrical systems to potentially life-threatening ZEB propulsion with up to 800 volts creates real safety concerns, especially when existing training on these new vehicles is inadequate.
The solution? Invest in training at the very beginning of the process, when your agency purchases ZEBs, and develop a long-term plan for continued refresher training:
  • Include maintenance and operations employees in the procurement process by having workers provide input into the technical specifications and bid review process. This can help address workers’ concerns. The input of highly experienced frontline workers throughout the procurement process helps assure that new buses delivered to the agency will benefit the agency, the riding public, and workers. King County Metro and Toronto Transit Commission both have procurement committees involving frontline workers. The committee usually involves equal numbers of management and labor representatives. Training is key for frontline workers to be effective on these committees.

  • Agency Request for Proposals (RFPs), which define procurement requirements and specifications, can be used to provide ZEB training and set standards for the quantity and quality of the training. This training can be delivered by the OEMs, related vendors/suppliers, or by third-party training organizations. An agency should, as part of its procurement process, require OEM training to be comprehensive to the point where agency technicians are qualified to perform warranty work in-house. Doing so puts agency’s repair proficiency on par with the OEM’s expertise, thereby guaranteeing that BEB maintenance work can be performed by agency personnel during the warranty period and long after it expires.  

  • Register a Bus Maintenance Apprenticeship with a focus on electrical and electronics skills to serve as a foundation for ZEB training, and to establish a long-term solution that provides technicians with the training needed to maintain ZEBs. Apprenticeships rely in great part on fully trained and experienced senior technicians to serve as mentors, role models that are able to demonstrate and explain the maintenance procedures so that new technicians are engaged in the hands-on learning experience. 
Dependable, well-maintained ZEB fleets are only possible with an accompanying investment in human capital. Research has proven that quality training for frontline transit workers has a high return on investment – up to 700%.3 This initial investment is as important as the purchase of the bus itself because it keeps workers safe and ensures adherence to service schedules.
The International Transportation Learning Center is working with a team of industry experts to develop recommended procurement language that can be customized and inserted into an agency’s RFP for ZEBs. This language will ensure that quality training for the maintenance and operations workforce becomes an integral part of new bus procurements. 
Stay tuned for the release of the recommended language!
For more information on the recommended ZEB RFP language, please contact Karitsa Holdzkom.
Upcoming Webinars
The American Prospect - August 31, 4:00 pm ET
For nearly two decades, worker centers have been at the forefront of rethinking strategies for addressing economic injustice and building worker power. These labor movement organizations have been engines of experimentation in the realms of worker organizing, narrative change, policy development, and labor-standards enforcement. There is much to glean, and celebrate, from their remarkable body of work.
Transportation Research Board – September 2, 2:00 pm ET
Joint development is real estate development that occurs on transit agency property or through some other type of development transaction to which the transit agency is a party. TRB is hosting a webinar that will provide guidelines encouraging transit agencies to embrace joint development. Presenters will describe what the guide contains and how to use it. They will also identify current practices and explain the benefits of joint development.
Public Transportation
Government Technology - August 19, 2021
The contactless fare-payment system, known as the California Integrated Travel Project (Cal-ITP), is part of a six-month pilot, made available via a partnership with the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). Tap-to-pay systems are also being deployed on the Monterey-Salinas Transit system, Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District and Sacramento Regional Transit District (SacRT) light rail.
Mass Transit – August 17, 2021
Despite the setbacks presented by the pandemic, commuter rail remains one of the most efficient and sustainable way to bring people to cities. As people return to urban centers for work and pleasure, and as they continue to grow and grapple with congestion, cities will need to invest in improving and expanding their rail stations and infrastructure. However, the urban rail stations of tomorrow have the potential to do far more than accommodate growing capacities. They will play an increasingly central role for people as amenity-rich, multi-functional facilities, which address a spectrum of work/life needs. For cities, they can be vibrant mixed-use hubs that catalyze regeneration and significantly impact surrounding communities. 
COVID's Impact on Transit
CNN – August 17, 2021
The Transportation Security Administration will extend its US federal transportation mask mandate through January 18, the agency confirmed late Tuesday afternoon.
The mandate was set to expire on September 13. TSA said the purpose of the mask directive is "to minimize the spread of Covid-19 on public transportation," and the extension comes as Covid-19 cases have skyrocketed in the United States in recent weeks because of the spread of the Delta variant.
Streetsblog – August 20, 2021
It seems we are at a tipping point and could revert to unsustainable and high carbon modes without clever interventions from national governments. Where people are reluctant to return to the use of public transport, research is showing that a greater focus needs to be placed upon active travel (non-motorized transport such as walking and cycling) and use of electric bikes and scooters.
Government Technology – August 24, 2021
Of all the public transit services impacted by the COVID-19 crisis, commuter rail lines — which have often largely served white-collar office types traveling into and out of city centers — were the most impacted, seeing their ridership drop upward of 90 percent. Since then, operators have reduced fares, adjusted train schedules and taken other steps to if not regain former riders, entice new ones.
Transit System/Partners
Mass Transit – August 19, 2021
The biggest change in 2020 to advance BART and the Bay Area toward a greener future was the opening of the Milpitas and Berryessa/North San Jose stations in June 2020. The two new stations help connect BART to San Jose, the most populous city in the Bay Area, and work as transit hubs to local bus service to help shorten travel times, reduce local congestion and lower greenhouse gas emissions from cars.  
Los Angeles Times – August 20, 2021
Is it time to make the subways and buses free? Los Angeles County is moving down that path, slowly. The idea’s been kicking around for several years, but a pilot program just got underway — for K-12 students only, and only at participating schools and school districts — in recent weeks. Next up: more K-12 schools and then perhaps community college students as well. After that, the program will, proponents hope, be expanded to provide free service to low-income riders.
Greater Greater Washington – August 17, 2021
Metro track work, bus, and rail service changes are coming to a head this Labor Day, and major changes are afoot for many riders. Some Red Line riders, the latest to deal with around-the-clock single-tracking, get a reprieve at the end of the month, but others will need to take shuttle buses. Rail riders on all lines get some service improvements though as hours and service changes come, and more bus changes get implemented.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch – August 20, 2021
The policy change comes as employers struggle to fill jobs amid a quickly growing economy that this spring had begun emerging from the worst of the pandemic. In the St. Louis region, the labor force — the number of people working or seeking work — has rebounded from its pandemic lows last year but in June was still down almost 30,000 from June 2019, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The area’s labor force was about 1.47 million in June, a level for this time of year last recorded in 2014.
International News
Forbes – August 18, 2021
On Friday August 13, 2021, the Canadian government announced that it intends to require vaccination as early as the end of September for workers in the federal public service. This mandate would include all federal workers and the federally regulated transportation sector, including air travel, trains and cruises. 
Labor News
Gizmodo – August 18, 2021
Labor and climate organizers are aiming to ease fossil fuel workers’ concerns, with an increasing push to make sure the climate jobs of the future are unionized and pay as well as their fossil fuel counterparts. They’re also putting the need to protect workers at the forefront rather than treating labor as an afterthought. The growing climate-labor movement could be the key to making sure decarbonization actually happens in a speedy and fair manner, and it’s making inroads in some surprising places.
The Philadelphia Inquirer - August 17, 2021
Transport Workers Union Local 234 has a message for its members heading into negotiations with SEPTA on a new contract after working the front lines during the COVID-19 pandemic: Hang tough and prepare for a possible strike.
In a video that was scheduled to be distributed to members Tuesday morning, the local’s leadership makes clear it will expect some compensation for the risks transit workers took to keep the trains, buses, and trolleys running for more than a year during the pandemic.
Economic Issues
Route 50 - August 21, 2021
Ward McCarragher, the vice president of government affairs and advocacy for the American Public Transportation Association, which represents transit agencies, says the influx of money from Washington will help agencies respond to increasing public demand to address racial equity and climate change, too. “In the last two years, in addition to Covid, people are much more focused on equity, and whether we’re getting service to the communities that need it most. This money helps provide that,” he says. “That’s true of both the Covid funding to help with the operations, and then the infrastructure bill will help provide the capital necessary for that.”
Vox – August 23, 2021
The right investment would unlock a new era for transit, where a combination of capital and operations funding could increase service and expand into new areas with clean energy fleets. But such an investment would need to be several times what has been allocated — so much that even if the $110 billion the bill allocates in new funding for highways, bridges, and roads had gone to public transit instead, it likely would not have been enough.
Building Transit Infrastructure
Governing - August 24, 2021
We need to evaluate American infrastructure needs within the context of rebuilding and upgrading, not creating a large number of shiny new objects. Even today, leaders often prefer to spend on the new rather than the old, so we do need a greater bias in favor of fixing it first.
Workforce Development
The Hechinger Report - August 23, 2021
“As educators, we often focus on communicating what we don’t want our students to be doing in class, but we have found that just doesn’t work,” said Keith Herman, a professor in the University of Missouri College of Education who was one of the researchers in the study, in a press release. “Instead, we need to be setting clear expectations of what behaviors we do want to be seeing.”
Fast Company – August 25, 2021
As of 2021, 80% of CEOs rank the need to teach their workforce new skills as their biggest business challenge; at the same time, research shows that opportunities for learning and development are one of the top driving forces behind an employee’s happiness and engagement at work. And yet, so often the way companies actually approach learning and development for their employees is inconsistent, one-size-fits-all, and comes from the top-down as part of an “upskilling initiative.”
Safety & Health
Seattle Times – August 21, 2021 
Transportation systems need to be resilient to climate change. There needs to be greater accessibility to public transit. That will reduce potential exposure to heat by allowing people to get to and from their station or bus stop quicker and minimize the amount of time they’re waiting or traveling in high temperature conditions. It also includes programmatic changes like increasing the headway of how often different transit vehicles come and go to ensure that individuals are not being unduly subjected to high temperature conditions.
People & Tech
BBC – August 18, 2021
Lucy Marstrand-Taussig is a transport planner who has advised the government on walking and cycling. She argues that the scale of spending on roads does not make sense: "We know new roads induce congestion and warm the planet, creating more problems." Electric vehicles should be secondary, she says, and the government should be investing far more in space-efficient transport modes - public transport, walking and cycling.
1 FACT SHEET: The Bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Advances President Biden’s Climate Agenda, 2021.
2 15 States Will Follow California’s Push To Electrify Trucks And Buses, 2021.
3 Transportation Learning Center, Transit Partnership Training: Metrics of Success, 2010.
International Transportation Learning Center