Nashville’s Music City Circuit bus fleet is going electric.
Federal transit officials and Mayor Karl Dean announced Friday Metro has landed a $3 million U.S. Department of Transportation grant to purchase new zero-emissions electric buses to replace four hybrid buses used by the Music City Circuit, Metro’s free bus service that circulates among various stops downtown. Dollars will also go toward a new electric charging station at Riverfront Station near First Avenue and Broadway.
“By converting the downtown circuit vehicles to new electric buses, our city is without doubt moving another step in the right direction,” Dean said, as he reminded reporters about his goal to make Nashville the “greenest city in the Southeast.”
Metro Transit Authority CEO Paul Ballard called the announcement a “game changer” in the city’s transit operations.
Armed with the funds, Ballard said MTA would soon be issuing a request for proposals in search of an electric bus manufacturer. It is unclear when Metro officials will make the electric transition for Music City Circuit, which involves three different routes — the green, blue and purple circuits — that run on intervals of either 15 or 30 minutes.
Ballard said MTA eventually hopes to use available Metro funds to add three additional electric buses to overhaul the entire Music City Circuit fleet. New electric versions would likely be smaller than MTA’s existing buses.
“This is delivering $3 million of Tennessee taxpayer money back to them to improve the quality of their life, to provide cleaner air for our children and all of the people of Greater Nashville,” said Peter Rogoff, administrator of the Federal Transit Administration. “And it’s a grant that’s really going to leapfrog Nashville over a great many other cities.
“This is really the next generation,” he added. “This is the cutting edge.”
U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced more than $50 million in transit bus grants on Friday after receiving $516 million in grant requests from cities nationwide. “This was a truly brutal competition between cities for these clean-fuel bus grants,” Rogoff said.
The electric bus announcement comes one week after Metro officials announced it would no longer be pursuing  a September deadline to land FTA dollars for the mayor’s proposed bus rapid transit project along Broadway-West End.
Instead, MTA has indicated it would be seeking entry into the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts program under MAP-21, a new transportation law that goes into effect Oct. 1. The move has shifted Metro and its transit consultants to a later, but still-unidentified, application deadline.
“We’ve been following it very closely,” Rogoff said of the mayor’s push for the East-West Connector. He commended Dean for opting for a BRT project over a more expensive modern streetcar.
“We’ll be looking for certain things,” Rogoff said of the grant application review process. “We’ll be looking for a strong local financial commitment. We’ll be looking for strong local support. We’ll be looking for the right kind of zoning that will promote the right type of economic development to maximize the impact of the federal investment. Things are moving in the right direction.”