The $2.9 billion settlement between Volkswagen and the federal government could bring newer buses to Missouri’s roads, but it’s up to local transit authorities and bus companies to apply.
Missouri received $41 million in total from the trust established after the 2017 settlement, in which Volkswagen admitted to disabling emissions control devices in its vehicles. The state’s share is based on the number of the number of impacted vehicles sold in Missouri.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources intends to use $4 million of the settlement money to help local transit agencies or shuttle companies replace buses that are from 2009 or older, with an eye toward reducing emissions that cause air pollution.
“Our main goal is to reduce mobile source emissions of NOx, specifically nitrogen oxide, with maximum cost effectiveness,” said Kim Bybee, the DNR’s air pollution control director. “So these applications that come in in this round, we will score them and we will take a look at the amount of emissions that would be reduced with the new vehicle and we will take a look at how many Volkswagen dollars are spent.”
The funding is available statewide, but there’s a particular focus on swapping out buses in the St. Louis and Kansas City regions, because, Bybee said, those areas have “current or historical issues with meeting air quality standards.”
The grants would pay for anywhere between 25 percent to 75 percent of the cost of replacing buses. The DNR had received few applications as of mid-December, but Bybee expected the number to grow as the Dec. 31 deadline grew closer.
The Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) said it will likely pass on the cash — for now. It already has plans to use federal funding to help replace the 20 percent of buses in its fleet that are from 2009 or older, according to KCATA public information officer Petrina Parker.
She did not rule out applying in subsequent rounds if more money becomes available through the trust.
Kim Cella, executive director of the Missouri Public Transit Association, said her group had pushed for some of the settlement money to be used for transit.
“We currently sit in a state that only provides $1.7 million in transit funding for 34 providers across the state,” Cella said. “So this VW settlement, it was an opportunity to think outside the box. Transit has a direct impact on our environment and fit perfectly under the goals of the VW mitigation plan.”
Missouri also plans to use settlement funds to replace older school buses and other government vehicles. Bybee said the agency received 76 applications from school districts and officials are determining how to distribute the funds.
Later rounds of grants will target trains, public and private airport support and cargo equipment, as well as fund the construction of electric vehicle charging stations. Any money left over from those rounds would go back to fund transit and school bus replacement.
The state has until October 2027 to spend the money from the settlement. If other states do not use their allotment, more settlement funds could be distributed.
Samuel King is the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3. Follow him on Twitter: @SamuelKingNews