A federal grant will raise Delaware's electric bus count to 20. They can reduce carbon emissions, save energy, minimize maintenance costs and increase accessibility for those with disabilities.

State transportation officials announced a $2.6 million federal grant that will bring the state’s total electric bus fleet to 20.

Not only will these electric buses reduce carbon emissions, but they are four to five times more energy efficient than diesel buses and will likely require less maintenance, according to DelDOT Director of Community Relations C.R. McLeod.

This grant will help fund research into the difference between diesel and electric, McLeod said.

“We’re really embracing change and innovation,” Gov. John Carney said when announcing the grant in Dover Aug. 6.

As one of the 25 governors in the U.S. Climate Alliance, Carney has already committed the state to powering 28 percent of its electricity with renewable sources by 2025. While the state legislature works to set a more ambitious goal for 2035, Carney highlighted transit as an important next step.

“We’re clearly making progress in the state of Delaware,” Carney said. “We need to make progress on the transportation side.”

DelDOT plans to use solar energy and battery storage to place less demand on the electric grid and ensure buses can run during any outages, McLeod said.

With this third Federal Transit Administration grant, Delaware has received a total of $5.6 million to adopt zero-emission transit buses.

The state is running six electric buses in Kent County with eight more coming to New Castle County in the fall and another two to Sussex County in the winter. The first charging stations have been installed at DART headquarters in Dover with more expected throughout the state.

“We know there’s too much carbon in the air. And we know we need to reduce it,” Sen. Tom Carper said. “The good news is we [can] build vehicles like this.”

Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, member of the House Energy and Commerce Environment and Climate Change Subcommittee, said there is an added bonus to the environmentally-friendly buses: a positive customer experience.

“How do people feel when they ride on transportation? Is it accessible? Does it smell? Is it clean, quiet and sustainable? That’s powerful for the customer, for the people who ride these vehicles,” she said.

One of the people who can testify to that is Pedro Toala.

In 2006, Toala was working as a DART bus driver when he stopped to use a portable toilet in a Wilmington park. As a cruel prank, a group of teenagers tipped the portapotty he was in, causing Toala to crash to the ground and break his back.

Now in a wheelchair, Toala works for DART as an information center specialist. Since his van recently broke down, he depends on public transportation to get to work.

“It’s more stable and less noise, too” Toala said after demonstrating the new wheelchair arrangement on the electric buses. “I feel more secure in that one,” he said, gesturing to the bus.

The technology allows faster loading and unloading for customers with disabilities, said Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan.

As electric buses take to the roads, DelDOT says they’re planning to explore hydrogen-fueled buses as the next fuel-efficient and environmentally-friendly option.