Long Beach Transit, Please Go (More) Electric

Mitsubishi, and other bus makers, have developed all electric buses.

Long Beach Transit (LBT) is considering two common, albeit game-changing RFPs (depending on their decisions): to purchase new buses that fit within the so-called alternative fuel sectors–that is, hybrid, CNG, or electric.

Before I even make another statement, there are two that shouldn’t even be on that list–and it isn’t electric.

As dollar signs float through the various minds of various transit board members across the globe, let’s first break down LBT’s two current RFPs.

The first one was issued last October following the receiving of the Department of Transportation’s Transit Investments for Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reduction (TIGGER) grant. It also acted as one of LBT’s most progressive: instead of simply following the grant’s requirement of reducing GHG emissions and energy costs, which means any alternative fuel buses could be purchased with the grant monies, LBT decided to offer an addition of Prop Bond 1B funds to obtain a 10 bus fleet of zero emission electric buses. If succeeded and followed through, it would be the largest electric bus fleet in the nation.

This RFP, whose applicants were narrowed down this past February, has been slightly delayed following LBT staff’s recommendation of one company over another and has prompted the Board to reevaluate their recommendation process. Deferring their vote and holding study sessions, the LBT Board was presented with a breakdown of how the staff went about not just the RFP, but their decision.

In an interesting contradiction to bringing in electric buses, Board Member  Lori Ann Farrell asked if LBT was required to spend the grant on electric buses–to which LBT Maintenance and Facilities Executive Director Rolando Cruz explained that, while not required, the 1B funds LBT would put up themselves allow them to purchase ten of the more expensive, zero-emission electric buses that the grant alone would not permit them to do.

Farrell’s mind was thinking finances (she is the treasurer of the board after all): so LBT could purchase 10 CNG vehicles with just the grant alone–thereby saving the transit company some $3.8 million in 1B funds–or they could get 10 electric buses and lose said funds.

Devil’s advocate. And not in a good way.

The second RFP, whose submissions were due earlier this week after being issued back in December of 2012, is a five-year procurement of some 118 transit buses. Though not specified in the RFP, electric bus makers can apply–and one can only hope they do. If they go electric, it will become the world’s largest electric transit fleet.

So I ask LBT one thing: please go electric.

CNG is, for the most part, just slightly cleaner than the next worst thing–even though it wows municipalities with its lower price of fuel.  As one study explicitly states in its conclusion, “the use of natural gas is not a guarantee that emissions will actually drop.”

Even further, we have a tendency to immediately feel positive about things that we call “green”–a point made in New York Times article by University of Manchester Professor Kevin Anderson, who flat-out called natural gas a “very bad fuel” with “very high emissions indeed.” And this stirs fears that we end up, like diesel, dependent upon natural gas rather than actually substituting it.

Studies have concluded that, while CNG buses are more advantageous regarding emissions of particle mass compared to diesel buses, they actually emit more CO particles1,2,3–particularly when they are lean burn fuel controlled (which had significantly higher NOx and THC emission rates than diesel as well) rather than stoichiometric fuel controlled (which has relatively lower CO2 and THC emission rates but significantly lower CO and NOx rates).

CNG also has a higher fuel consumption rate than diesel, an inept fuel performance rate, and a cost that doesn’t seem to outweigh the benefit.

With electric buses, you have zero emissions–and true zero emissions. Given that electricity rates are increasing at some 2% per year versus crude oil increasing at 8%, you save a good chunk of change, while simultaneously keeping the money in-state rather than abroad since electricity money is generated typically in-state. This isn’t mentioning other maintenance costs: an electric bus’s centered maintenance point is replacing a battery–not an engine, alternator, tranny…), noise pollution decreases, a smoother ride…

And the future. To use an all-too-common phrase used today, we want history on our side–and that, at least to lil’ ol’ me, most certainly includes the planet, probably the most important of all.

As LBT, in a show of progressiveness that I am deeply proud of, moves forward with green technology, one can only hope they leap instead since they have the chance to.

Footnotes:

1. A. M. Hallquist, M. Jerksjo, H. Fallgren, J. Westerlund. and A. Sjodin (2012). Particle and gaseous emissions from individual diesel and CNG buses. Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics Discussion.

2. Comparison of Unregulated Emissions from CNG Buses With and Without After-Treatment Technologies, presented at the 22nd CRC Real World Emissions Workshop, 2012.

3. Proposed Exhaust Emission Rates for CNG Transit Buses in MOVES2013, presented by the EPA on September 25, 2012.

CORRECTION: This article originally stated that Board Member Lori Ann Farrell was Lori Ann Mitchell.

  • publictransport@aboutguide.com

    The range of the current generation of electric buses in combination with the recharge time does not yet permit the wide deployment of electric buses as you had advocated. On long bus routes, requirements to charge at the end of every trip would add significant schedule time and a need for charging infrastructure that may not be welcomed by the community. We should start small and make sure the technology works before we leap.

  • Shakey077

    The cost to purchase electric buses is about double the cost of a CNG bus, that too is a huge factor to consider along with the limited range of all electric. Electric will most likely be the future that transit agencies will go to but the range must increase and the cost must come down to make it viable. For the $12-13 million LBT will spend on the 10 all electric buses they could buy 24-26 CNG buses. Realistically the Gas-Electric hybrid is not an option right now either, and any diesel combination is not an option either LBT is really limited in their choices by emissions laws and purchase price

  • Erik Griswold

    The only in-service Electric bus in the USA at present is the Proterra EcoLiner:
    http://www.proterra.com/index.php/products/productDetail/C22/

    (Mistubishi does not sell to the USA market)

    Have you contacted Foothill Transit to see what their expericne is?

  • Yes. The Proterra buses currently at Foothill admittedly had a faulty beginning–but not due to the electric aspect of its running, but operational (windshield wipers, doors, etc). Since the studies composed on the buses that were completed in November of last year, they’ve had not one issue–including an over 500% better fuel economy than CNG. Take the regenerative breaking of these buses: no break fixes in 18mos and counting. You basically have to repair the barrings on Proterra’s buses–the only major maintenance cost.

  • dieselbuses

    Sorry to say but I disagree, I don’t think LBT should go with an all electric bus fleet. They aren’t proven and we still don’t know how will they do yet anyways since there aren’t here. In my opinion, I think Long Beach Transit should have stick with buy diesel buses this whole time because they were reliable. The Gasoline-electric Hybrids are unreliable and a problem and the CNG’s are no better either. The Hybrids and CNG’s are not doing any better then Diesel for sure.

    As a taxpayer, I don’t like the fact where LBT is spending this money on a type of bus that might fail anyways.

    Too bad the South Coast Air Quality Management District (SCAQMD) ban the purchase of diesel buses (another right taken away by the government) which is why LBT has no choice but to purchase alternative fueled powered bus that is not diesel. Worst part about this is that I hear California Air Resource Board (CARB) wants Transit Agencies here in California to have a 20% emission fleet by 2020 I have heard in the past.

    I’d say let’s just abolish the CARB and all local air quality management district (including SCAQMD), we don’t need any nanny-state nonsense here.

    I bet if the diesel ban had never happened in first place, probably LBT would still be ordering diesel buses to this day.

  • Dennis Hindman

    An advantage of electric motors over an internal combustion engine is that it has 100% torque (pulling power) starting from a dead-stop and a internal combustion engine torque peaks at several thousand RPMs.

    There was a problem with the CNG 60-foot buses on the Orange Line losing much of their power when the outside temperature reached 100 degrees. Several of the buses would accelerate from a stop at about walking speed. This would not be a problem that would likely occur in Long Beach.

  • Dennis Hindman

    The biggest downside to an electric bus is how far it can be driven on a charge and the additional vehicle costs due to the expensive batteries. An electric motor is extremely reliable and lasts a very long time.

  • accessys

    hello… look North a bit, San Francisco has been running 100% electric buses for over 50 years. the’re called trolleybusses. inexpensive, many thousands around the world and USA companies building them. a small battery pack or diesel as used in many cities allows them to travel without the overhead wire, why reinvent the wheel.

    oh the wires, if two thin wires bother folks so much start tearing down the electric wires to all our houses and the telephone and cable tv wires, talk about double standard.

    Bob

  • TheNumbers

    The Board needs look at the total costs over the service life of each bus. Electric has a higher upfront capital cost and lower operating costs. CNG busses are cheaper upfront but will have higher fuel and maintenance costs. The deciding factor will be how many years LBT plans to keep the bus in service. They need to determine how many years before the electric bus reaches cost parity with the CNG bus.

  • Erik Griswold

    Yes, and Seattle and Vancouver, BC on the West Coast of North America.

    Winnipeg based New Flyer makes a very reliable and proven Electric Trolley Buses (ETBs) which both Vancouver and Philadelphia have recently purchased.

    And there is extra monies from the FTA availalble since ETBs are considered fixed-guideway.

    And what is now Metro has already done quite a bit of studying of the mode:

    http://articles.latimes.com/1992-02-15/local/me-1589_1_electric-trolley-buses

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