Board approves motion seeking plan for a zero-emission bus fleet for Metro

Interesting stuff, especially given that Metro has about 2,200 buses. Metro has five electric buses but the rest of its 2,200-bus fleet is powered by compressed natural gas, known as CNG. The good news is CNG is significantly cleaner than diesel…but CNG is still a fossil fuel that produces greenhouse gas emissions.

Here’s the motion:

Motion by Directors Garcetti, Solis, Fasana and Dupont-Walker that the Board direct the CEO to:

A. Develop an initial outline for a comprehensive plan to further reduce greenhouse gas emissions by gradually transitioning to a zero-emission bus fleet;


Mayor Eric Garcetti on the bus en route to the Metro Board meeting today chatting up another passenger. Photo: Office of L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti.

B. Report which public transit agencies have deployed zero emission vehicle buses in the U.S.

C. Identify manufacturers that provide zero emission bus technology for large U.S. transit agencies.

D. Report that provides the following information for zero emission buses:

  1. Greenhouse gases and air pollutant levels;

  2. Noise levels (i.e. decibels) comparison between conventional Clean Natural Gas (“CNG”) and zero emission buses;

  3. Production challenges and opportunities to partner with other agencies in large procurements to achieve economies scale discounts;

  4. Chronological timeline of the advancements and forecasts in zero emission bus technologies;

E. Provide a report on all mile-range and run times for all current MTA bus routes.

F. Identify possible Federal, State and local funding sources that are eligible for the purchase of zero-emission bus vehicles.

G. For this new bus procurement of advanced transit buses, include the following:

  1. Zero emission bus technology cost options for the base order and all other bus purchase options.

  2. Increasing and maximizing seating capacity.

H. Report back on the above at the October 2016 MTA Board meeting and provide a semi-annual report thereafter on zero emission bus technology.

10 replies

  1. It’s good to know that they will explore fuel cell electric buses (FCEBs) as well. California has about 15 years of experience with them and 12 years of federally collected data. Four transit agencies have 20 buses currently in daily operation: AC Transit up in the East Bay has 14 and SunLine Transit out in the Coachella Valley has five, with seven more buses and two shuttles on the way. UC Irvine operates a fuel cell bus and the Orange County Transportation Authority just acquired one with the goal of acquiring more. [Disclosure: I work for the California Fuel Cell Partnership.]

    • Correction: AC Transit has 13 fuel cell buses, with a 60-foot, articulated bus in the pipeline. That brings the statewide total to 19.

  2. Looking at item G, number 2, which states: “Increasing and maximizing seating capacity.” makes me wish I was at the meeting to make a comment about that. Metro has a dilemma of spending more money than they are taking in. The 60-foot articulated buses that are now in service have 57 seats. A Metro memo mentions that a 80-foot bus could hold 80 seats and 112 passengers. Those buses could hold more passengers if there were more standees and less seats. Its obvious that the preference for passengers is to have a seat, but if the passengers are crammed in like sardines and have to wait for the next bus because there is no room for them on the one that just arrived, then that is a worse situation than not getting a seat. That’s routinely happening on the busiest bus lines.

    Van Hool is a privately owned transit bus manufacturer headquartered in Belgium. They make both a 60-foot articulated transit bus and a 80-foot bi-articulated bus called Exquicity which is built specifically for BRT. The average floor layout for their 80-foot bus is 50 seats with a maximum capacity of 95 standees for a total load of 145 passengers. LA Metro is talking about a 80-foot bus with 80 seats and a maximum capacity of 32 standees for a total load of 112 passengers at a time. Which one of those floor layouts has the best possibility of having the highest amount of revenue collected per service hour? If the bus can be loaded with 30% more passengers, then it certainly should have the ability to take in more revenue per service hour.

    A Van Hool pdf of the Exquicity bus lists the 80-foot bi-articulated bus as having a possible floor layout of 28, 42 or 61 seats. Any of those floor layouts could bring in much more revenue per service hour than a 80-foot bus with 80 seats.

    On that same pdf are possible floor layouts for a 60-foot Exquicity bus. LA Metro has 57 seats on their 60-foot buses. Van Hool lists 29, 35 and 44 seats. The Exquicity 80-ft bus lists a floor layout with less seats than the least amount for their 60-foot bus. Any of the listed floor layouts for the 60-foot Exquicity could bring in more revenue per service hour than the current 57-seat 60-foot buses that LA Metro is now using.

    I’m not trying to argue for LA Metro to buy Exquicity buses from Van Hool. I’m attempting to point out that LA Metro would be taking in less much less revenue per service hour by packing the buses with seats.

    Here is that Exquicity pdf:

    Another dilemma that has occurred on the 60-foot buses used on the Orange Line is that after 10 PM, when the buses are scheduled 20 minutes apart, there is a large amount of people with bicycles waiting to board. Bus drivers will routinely let 3-5 bicycles inside the bus in those late hours when few passengers are on the bus. The majority of these bike riders are probably restaurant workers. I have routinely taken the Orange Line after 11 PM from Canoga Ave heading east, On a warm summer night I have counted up to 11 people with bicycles at the stations on our side of the busway waiting to board when there are already three bikes in the rack and 5 bikes on-board. Having a floor layout with less seats would enable bikes to be stored out of the aisle late at night when there are few passengers.

    Ingress and egress can be much faster if there are less seats on a bus that is running along a very busy route.

    • Dennis is really on point here. Metro buses already have too many seats as is… I can’t fathom why they want to investigate adding more seats. If Metro wants to add capacity, it should be removing seats not adding them. For example, on the 60ft NABI buses, if we remove the 6 right hand side seats in the front section between the two doors, we can fit ~15 standees while still keeping wheelchair accommodation.

  3. Metro’s best short-term option here is to get Hybrid buses. Several systems use them (New York MTA, SEPTA, Capital Metro in Austin TX and others). Hybrid buses take off electrically from stops, generate power from the braking systems and retarders, and blend power as needed between the batteries and a smaller engine. There are CNG-powered hybrid buses out there. Electric buses have to get their power somewhere, and until electricity is generated by means other than fossil fuels, natural gas, coal or nuclear, well…..the buck is being passed somewhere else.

  4. This is excellent news, both to improve riders’ experience (much less noise and vibration) as well as reduce fossil fuel use and GHG emissions! It looks like Metro will now look beyond the one vendor tried so far (BYD); Foothill Transit has done well with Proterra, for example.

  5. The MTA has procured several “Zero Emission ” buses and none of them have worked out. The first group are sitting at Division 12 rusting away after less than a year in operation. The current order has been sent back to the factory numerous times. Now the MTA wants to waste more money on a concept that does not work and is inappropriate for a large agency like the MTA where buses are on the street for twelve plus hours everyday in some cases.

  6. The design and construction of any new or existing buses should take into consideration that the forward view out the front window should NOT be blocked from the passengers. The new buses that are currently being added to the fleet have panels near the front that prevent the passengers from seeing ahead, thereby knowing when their stop is coming up. Also, they prevent bicycle riders from seeing their bicycles on the front, which makes it easy for thieves to steal their bicycles.

    • With regard to bus design: There are a lot of electronic systems on buses these days, and those systems need to be protected from the elements. The easiest way to protect electronics is to place them in compartments inside the bus. With low-floor buses, those compartments are very limited in where they can be placed so that they can be easily maintained. Some of those panels are also placed as protection for the bus operator.Also, most newer buses have automated announcements for major stops and timepoints. The only way someone wouldn’t know if their stop was coming up is if they were not paying attention, such as listening to music or using a cell phone. I see this quite a bit on the trains in the Philadelphia area, so I am sure this also happens in L.A. (A suggestion: If you know how long your trip takes on the bus, use your smartphone’s alarm and set it for a couple of minutes before your scheduled arrival time to your stop.) As far as the bicycle racks go, you could keep an eye on your bike and it could still get stolen. My suggestion would be to lock the wheels to the forks and frame before placing the bike in the bike rack. You don’t “roll” a bike onto the rack, you “lift” it.