Attentive Source readers know that the Metro Board has adopted a policy of converting Metro’s entire fleet of buses to zero emission vehicles by 2030. The bus fleet is currently powered entirely by compressed natural gas, which burns much cleaner than the diesel fuel which previously fueled the fleet.
A fully electric fleet is mighty ambitious considering Metro has the second largest bus fleet in the U.S. (about 2,200 buses) and the rigorous demands Metro puts on its bus fleet — with vehicles in operation for many hours a day, day after day.
If you’ve been to a Board meeting the last few months, you also know that there has been no shortage of members of the public pushing for Metro to make the conversion sooner rather than later. And, in fact, four bus-related contracts will be considered by the Metro Board on Thursday, including:
Here are the actions taken by the Metro Board of Directors on Thursday:
•A contract was approved to purchase 60 40-foot zero emission buses from BYD to be used on the Silver Line. Staff report.
•A contract was approved to purchase 35 60-foot articulated zero emission buses from New Flyer to be used on the Orange Line. Staff report. The vote was 7 to 3; attached was a motion calling for Metro to negotiate a local hire program with New Flyer. This was a contentious item, wit Board Members Janice Hahn, Ara Najarian and Hilda Solis supporting a motion calling for giving the contract to BYD. Staff and Board Members supporting New Flyer argued that firm’s technical merits were stronger.
•A contract was approved to purchase 65 60-foot CNG buses from New Flyer to replace buses purchased between 2004 and 2008 and go into service between 2018 and 2022. Staff report. The Metro Board last month also approved a contract to purchase 295 40-foot CNG buses from El Dorado. Staff report.
•A contract was approved worth up to $26.5 million with Cummins Engines for up to 395 ‘near zero emission’ CNG engines for existing buses. Staff report.
•Approved a motion that endorses the agency’s goal of converting its entire bus fleet to electric by 2030 and also working with the electric bus industry to ensure such buses are developed. The motion:
The challenge for Metro is finding electric buses that can meet the agency’s operational needs on its local and rapid lines. Those type of buses should be available — but probably not until the 2020 to 2022 timeframe. So we’re probably a couple of years away from the agency making a decision on how best to electrify the full fleet.
In the meantime, the agency has to accommodate 900,000-plus boardings on its buses on the average weekday, one reason the agency has to be careful about abandoning the compressed natural gas technology that has proven to work.
In the near-term, Metro is working toward using only electric buses on the Orange Line by 2020 and the Silver Line by about 2021 or possibly earlier; the thinking is that electric buses will be easier to implement first on the bus rapid transit lines. The agency is also converting many of its CNG buses to near-zero CNG that have extremely low nitrogen oxide emissions — a key ingredient of smog.
As I wrote last month, this seems to be a pretty good path forward — maintaining the service that tens of thousands of Metro riders rely upon while beginning to transition the fleet to zero emission.
I also want to repeat a salient fact: there are more than eight million registered vehicles in L.A. County. Transportation sources contribute about 22 percent to 28 percent of the emissions that contribute to smog in our region (see chart at right). It is going to take a lot more than Metro electrifying its bus fleet to improve our air quality, although I think Metro absolutely has a role to play — and it’s good to see the agency taking a leadership role as electric buses are the future.
Those interested in this topic should also read Laura Nelson’s recent story in the L.A. Times on Metro’s electric bus efforts. The article includes this quote from L.A. Mayor and Metro Board Chair Eric Garcetti: “We have two choices. We can wait for others, and follow, at the expense of residents’ health — or lead and innovate, and reduce emissions as quickly as possible. I’d much rather do the latter.”