Opinion: The silent roar of the TigerTransit engine

Written by: Cameron Farid, intern at New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition

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If you were a first-year engineering student at Princeton, like me, you likely made the daily trek across Washington Street to McDonnell or Fine Hall for another day of math and physics. This is a busy street, especially in the morning. If you paid attention, you likely noticed the diversity of vehicles that stopped to let you cross the road: Teslas, Toyotas, the whole mix.

If you didn’t pay attention, you still likely heard the roar of a TigerTransit diesel bus interrupting your conversation at least once a week. Even if you had the latest noise-canceling headphones, the sound always found a way into your ear. The roar from the “Tiger” of “TigerTransit” was inescapable, as were the exhaust fumes that infiltrated your nose and could be seen emanating from the buses on cold winter mornings. That was normal. It was just the price we paid for a transportation network covering campus and local shopping centers.

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But, around October of 2022, a new type of bus rolled into town.

I would see it approaching as I crossed Washington, expecting to hear the typical diesel roar symbolizing the power needed to move such a massive vehicle. But no, its silence was deafening. The exhaust fumes were also absent. Their smoky aesthetic was replaced by digital signs and orange and black graphics covering the vehicle’s sides. 

There is more to this shift in bussing infrastructure than the benefit to my senses.

Beginning with the first deployment last October, Princeton University began transitioning to a fully electric, 17-bus fleet for TigerTransit, the University-run transportation system.

In addition to reducing local air pollution for the student population, this move is part of the University’s greater effort to reach net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2046.

According to the Office of Communications, the fleet transition will eliminate roughly 500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. This is not the first time TigerTransit worked to reduce its emissions. In 2009, the bus fleet switched from conventional diesel to B20 biodiesel fuel to reduce carbon dioxide emissions.

As a student of the University, it is great to see the campus becoming an early adopter of new vehicle technologies that are environmentally friendly. This will hopefully pave the way for other universities and transportation fleets to follow suit.

Additionally, as an energy enthusiast, the transition to electric buses offers even more than environmental benefit. It is an effort to advance the energy security of the United States and its allies at a time when global energy supplies remain uncertain.

Every barrel of petroleum saved in transitions like this is one less barrel the United States and its allies are dependent on unreliable, foreign sources of energy for. It is one more barrel the United States, now a net petroleum exporter, can supply to European allies to make up for reduced Russian supply in the wake of war.

As a fleet evaluations intern at the New Jersey Clean Cities Coalition, I am working to help fleets economically implement alternative fuels, like biodiesel and electricity, and efficient, fuel-reducing technologies.

These changes can benefit fleets economically, while supporting greater environmental and energy security interests. It is great to see Princeton University actively pursuing this mission as well.

With the electric conversion completion planned for the fall, I look forward to a quieter, cleaner walk to class next semester!

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