Coalition Pushes for Metro Fully Electric Bus Fleet by 2030

"Natural Gas is so 90s" coalition rallies for fully electric Metro bus fleet. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
"Natural Gas is so 90s" coalition rallies for fully electric Metro bus fleet. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Before this morning’s Metro board meeting, a coalition rallied for fully electrifying Metro’s 2,200 bus fleet by the year 2030. In March, Metro is expected to approve a procurement for 1,000 new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses. The coalition is campaigning to block the expected CNG bus purchase.

Organizations in the coalition include Food & Water Watch, Community Health Councils, Environment California Research and Policy Center, Jobs to Move America, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 11, National Electrical Contractors Association L.A. Chapter, Sierra Club, and Earthjustice.

Food & Water Watch spokesperson Alexandra Nagy stated the coalition’s four demands:

  • Transitioning Metro’s bus fleet to fully electric by 2030
  • Powering electric buses with fully renewable energy
  • Advancing equity by ensuring that under-served communities reap benefits of electrification
  • Ensuring that electrification result in high quality jobs for Los Angeles

The coalition commended Metro’s 1990’s leadership in switching from diesel to CNG buses then, but now decries that “Natural Gas is so 90s.”

Locally, Foothill Transit and LADOT have moved forward with electric buses now in service. Metro is moving forward with very limited electrification for the Metro Orange Line.

In 2015 Metro field tested some electric buses, but found their “mechanical reliability [was] subpar compared to typical CNG vehicles.”

Recent technological advances have improved electric buses, but there is a chicken-and-egg “which comes first?” dilemma. Electric buses are doing fairly well, but need widespread adoption to bring costs down and improve technology. Larger agencies are reluctant to dive too wholeheartedly into electric buses until the technology has achieved more widespread adoption and are more technologically sound. Nonetheless, eventual electrification will be great for riders and for the environment.

  • calwatch

    The counter to this is that diving head first into electric buses could result in a decrease in reliability and massive service cuts. As presented to the Citizens Advisory Council recently (http://media.metro.net/board/Items/2016/07_july/201607_cac_briefing.pdf and https://media.metro.net/board/Items/2017/01_january/20170125cacitem5.pdf) the experience with the BYD buses on Line 18 was poor. Buses did not get the stated 200 mile range and were topping out below 100. The cost for electric is $300,000-$400,000 higher than for CNG, so you can buy four CNG buses for three electric buses. Electric power in Southern California is still primarily through natural gas generation, and since some electric buses require in-route charging, rolling blackouts or power shortages could sideline buses when you need them the most. The operating costs of electric buses have not come down to the level of CNG either, with special training required to maintain the batteries.

    Metro’s ridership peaks and general load factors are much higher than, say, Foothill Transit, where you are unlikely to have a standing load for more than one trip per day, and in most instances buses are half full. Metro runs on roadways which are in poor condition and many routes like the Orange Line experience standing loads all day long.

    In the 90’s, when Metro went full thrust with CNG buses, they had to pull buses from the street due to an explosion. http://articles.latimes.com/1996-08-27/local/me-37992_1_natural-gas-buses 120 buses were pulled out of service and Metro had to borrow diesel buses from other agencies to maintain service, and even then buses were cut and reliability suffered. When bus service is not reliable, low income people lose their jobs when they can’t go to work.

    The current path forward of beta testing electric buses in small quantities, until the technology is proven and operating costs drop to the level of CNG, is the prudent approach. The advocates’ delay of bus procurement only means that riders will be sitting on 15+ year old buses instead of on CNG buses with more modern technology.

  • davistrain

    I presume this article is about storage-battery powered electric buses. Los Angeles had electric buses powered by overhead wires from 1948 to 1963, and several North American cities still use “trolley buses” also known as “Trackless Trolleys” and “Trolley Coaches”.

  • Metro needs to start phasing in electric buses where it can even though the technology isn’t fully cost-competitive with CNG yet. California’s climate policies are moving towards phasing out fossil fuel use over the next several decades, as is necessary to combat global warming. It’s not a matter of if, but when. I’m glad we made the move from diesel to CNG. It’s time to plan the next step.

  • Many cities use these buses today, including San Francisco and Seattle.

  • Panazza

    Good idea but unrealistic in a competitive economy (Fossil Fuels & High Costs of Electricity in CA)…Unless the Entitled Environmentalist imposes More Regulations which in turn Drives Up the FARE for ordinary folks who need transit and for LACMTA to pay for new fleet of electric buses.

    Please read

    “The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels”

  • roger

    CA isn’t phasing out fossil fuels, not by a long shot. For starters because CPUC refuses to regulate PG&E and Edison over 70% of the states’ power comes from natural gas and coal (labelled as “unspecified imports”).

    As it pertains to cars, CNG is clearly taking off for fleet vehicles while EVs remain only for wealthy suburbanites. That’s unlikely to change unless oil hits $100/bbl again.

  • We haven’t phased out fossil fuels yet, but we are moving in that direction. Per SB 32 of 2016 we have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions 40% below 1990 levels by 2030. Scientists say we need to virtually eliminate fossil fuel use to solve global warming and it seems like state lawmakers will attempt to do so unless the political climate changes dramatically.

  • rv65

    Thankfully San Diego bus decisions are not being influenced by these groups.