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Buses seen as key part of Newton’s climate action plan

During a recent Newton Public Safety and Transportation Committee meeting, councilors discussed the feasibility of transitioning to hybrid or electric transportation for the city — a move that could bring Newton one step closer to fulfilling the goals of its new climate action plan.

Councilor Alicia Bowman proposed the committee form a separate “round table or working group” composed of city officials, fleet management, and local environmental advocacy groups to discuss how buses fit into the future of electric transportation in Newton — one of the goals laid out in the city’s 2020 Five-Year Climate Action Plan.

“The state, the city, and the country are not on track for containing climate change,” Bowman said in an interview. “Transportation is a big part of that.”


Bowman said one of the main objectives of the group would be to “craft the right set of ordinances to support and incentivize” electric buses in Newton. She said she hoped including advocacy organizations in the discussion would help keep the group more “action oriented.”

Bowman said she would invite “anyone with a private shuttle” in the city to join the group, even if they do not require a city permit to operate.

At the June 23 meeting, PJ Cappadano, vice president of operations for MASCO, a shuttle company serving Boston’s Longwood Medical and Academic Area, also announced the company will be “phasing out” its services from the Shops at Chestnut Hill to the Longwood Medical Area — affecting about 100 “employees currently parking at the shops in Chestnut Hill” and commuting.

Cappadano cited “business and financial reasons” and said the company is working with Longwood institutions to provide alternatives.

In an interview, Councilor Andrea Downs said she was “not happy” to see a reduction in shuttle use. She said a priority for the city is to encourage more people to use shuttles and public transportation to live up to its climate action slogan — “use less, green the rest.”


Downs also pointed to school buses as one obstacle of the city’s climate action goal to “investigate electrification and new technology options for different fleet vehicles.”

She said the city will need to “find a place to park school buses,” before tackling the possibility of electrifying the fleet.

At the meeting, Joseph Davis, asset manager for Hingham-based VPNE Parking Solutions — a Hingham-based parking garage company that provides shuttle/bus services in Newton — said the company has electric vehicles, but its supply “is not where we would like it to be.” He said this along with the challenges of building recharging stations for the buses were why his company could not offer Newton electric vehicles at this time.

At the meeting, Boston College also requested renewals for two licenses for gasoline powered buses. In response to councilors’ questions about transitioning to electric buses, college officials said the biggest obstacles were cost and a lack of charging stations.

Frank Stearns, counsel to Boston College, estimated it would cost the school about $14 million to finance 14 new electric buses.

“The cost barriers are just too high right now,” Boston College Transportation Manager John Savino said at the meeting.

City Councilor Richard Lipof encouraged city officials to consider the financial burdens on both companies and schools when transitioning to electric vehicles.

“I don’t want to force anyone before their time to go electric,” Lipof said.


In an interview Lipof said the conversation of electric transportation is a “must have,” but now is not the time to make “it definitive.”

“I believe the colleges care about sustainability as much as we do,” Lipof said. “It has to do with the right time — when cost meets reliability.”

Ania Keenan can be reached at newtonreport@globe.com.