Metro’s Plan Would Electrify Bus Fleet by 2030

Metro plans to transition to a fully electric bus fleet by 2030. Photo of electric bus by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.
Metro plans to transition to a fully electric bus fleet by 2030. Photo of electric bus by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

Under pressure from environmentalists and others to end its reliance on compressed natural gas (CNG), Metro has presented its plan to gradually transition to a fully-electric bus fleet. While the end goal is laudable, the time-frame is no portrait in courage. Metro intends to proceed this month with a $200 million contract for 295 CNG buses, affirming the agency’s primary reliance on CNG for the next half-dozen years.

Electric buses in use every day by municipal bus agencies, including Foothill Transit, LADOT, and Long Beach Transit. Even in affirming an ultimate transition, Metro staff’s presentation elaborated on challenges to electrification, citing “known and unknown technology risks.” Metro is requiring a 250-mile range for a full bus (1.4 load factor – seats full, plus 40 percent more riders standing) the 12-year vehicle life. In addition, funding needs to be allocated for buses, as well as charging equipment and related infrastructure.

Metro will run electric buses on the Orange and Silver Lines as an initial proving ground; these lines are planned to be fully electric by 2020 and 2021, respectively.

Metro’s electric bus transition plan stands or falls on a 2019-2020 “technology assessment” before the agency actually begins to ramp up “ZEB” (Zero Emission Bus) acquisitions circa 2022. Then, the agency would transition its ~2500 bus fleet to all electric by 2030.

Graph showing Metro’s planned transition to Zero-Emission Buses. Image via Metro staff report

Metro’s ZEB transition plan was presented at yesterday’s meeting of the board’s System Safety, Security and Operations Committee. The plan was presented as part of the contract approval process for electric buses for the Orange Line (more on this below), without any formal committee approval – merely a “receive and file” action. Metro’s Chief Operations Officer James Gallagher stated, “we’re committed,” and characterized the plan as “a stake in the ground” and “what we’re working on now.” Boardmember Mike Bonin requested that the Metro board approve the zero-emission transition as an enshrined policy; this will not happen this month, but will come back to the board in the near future.

Overshadowing the electric bus transition plan were contentions over Metro’s first significant electric bus contract. Before the board next week is a $60 million contract to purchase 35 60-foot-long articulated electric buses for the Orange Line. Metro staff is recommending that the agency contract with bus manufacturer New Flyer, a company with which Metro has a history of bus purchases. New Flyer is expected to manufacture buses at its plant in Ontario, in nearby San Bernardino county.

Electric bus manufacturer BYD is also vying for the contract, and contesting Metro staff’s decision to go with New Flyer. BYD committed to manufacture buses at its plant in Lancaster. BYD representatives tout their product’s longer range and better local jobs creation; Metro staff ranked New Flyer higher technically, based in part on the company’s longer track record pointing to durability for the 12-year vehicle life.

Due to a lack of quorum of boardmembers without conflicts of interest, the initial articulated electric bus contract was not decided yesterday, but will go before the full board next week. In July, the board is expected to approve a second electric bus contract for 40-foot-long buses for the Silver Line pilot.

See additional coverage of Metro’s bus electrification plan at KPCC.

  • senorroboto

    While I’d love to see things happen faster, I’m glad they’re taking a steady, methodical approach with this. The last thing you want to do is go full steam ahead and plow yourself into a mess of technical issues and underdelivery by contractors. Failures like that tend to poison the well and make people think electrification isn’t feasible. (see the Port of LA’s previous attempt to move to CNG haulers from diesel, for example)

  • It should be added that Metro had a test of BYD coaches in regular city use (Line 14 for the most part) and that they were a quick failure.

    The buses were bought back by BYD and will be replaced by 5 60-foot (articulateds) to be used on the Orange Line.

    The Orange Line was built on a Railroad Right of Way and therefore is quite flat (relatively).

  • This needs to happen. Transit needs to stay on the cutting edge of sustainability. Metro can’t let the increasing affordability of electric cars steal it’s thunder. Plus, the way state regs are moving, fossil-fueled vehicles aren’t going to be viable long term.

  • John SFO

    I see that trackless trolleys (trolley buses) are not what is meant here. On LA’s busiest bus lines, trackless trolleys would be the most efficient; the buses could still have batteries so they could operate on non-electrified routes and pull out of, and turn in to, the bus yard without non-revenue wires.

  • Bernard Finucane

    What was wrong with the buses?

  • Failed in service. Could not make it through the day on their assigned routes, and had trouble climbing hills:

  • Yes, but that would mean icky wires, and most Angelenos prefer to suck poison air into their lungs than have to look at those!

  • Mike Jones

    This is a proposal to move “batteries” and there’s nothing sustainable about batteries. For high intensity routes (Orange and Silver Lines) “icky wires” are the solution, for other routes, battery buses might be the solution, but there’s only so much “green electricity” to go around.

  • calwatch

    Some of you may not remember Metro’s failure in the mid 90’s when a CNG bus literally exploded and they had to pull all the CNG buses out of service. they had to borrow old buses from other agencies and a decent percentage of service was cancelled until they figured out what was going on.

  • Wanderer

    The useful life of buses is generally considered to be 12 years. So if Metro committed to an all-electric fleet by 2030, it would mean that no more than one replacement CNG bus (and perhaps none) would be bought for each existing bus. That sounds like a prudent transition approach for a bus system that carries hundreds of thousands of people daily.

  • neroden

    On the contrary, batteries are almost entirely sustainable. Last for over 20 years and can then be >90% recycled. There’s a bit of a cobalt shortage right now, true.

    And also, there is an essentially unlimited amount of “green electricity” to go around. Have you ever looked at any of the studies showing how much we can get from solar power? The entire world’s energy needs can be met by a small square of Arizona desert (though obviously we’ll distribute the solar panels instead).

    Overhead wires are preferable for high intensity routes, yes.

  • neroden

    They were essentially defective product. New Flyer has a longer record. BYD’s current buses are performing better, but I can see why LA would prefer to go with New Flyer.

  • Kieran

    Sad irony of this article is that if LA never gave up its trolleybuses in the mid 20th century, it’d most likely have plenty of trolleybus routes right now. I think that these battery powered buses will be better than nothing considering LA has to start from scratch when it comes to changing its bus fleet from diesel to electric.

    If only LA held onto these vehicles to begin with-

  • Mike Jones

    I was under the impression that the logic behind hydrogen was that it was more efficient than lugging around heavy batteries. Of course, like batteries hydrogen is not a fuel source just a delivery method.

  • Untilthen

    This seems like a decent plan. Unfortunately too much green bus transportation planning is murky or off-base I was invited to a mobility conference in Cambridge Mass, the Meeting of the Minds. The state’s transportation director, Secretary Pollack, ranted that Mass isn’t doing enough when it comes to green transport and that her state’s bus system is a wreck. The entire time I’m thinking, isn’t that YOUR JOB? to fix the system? not to yell about it? Pollack literally told everyone that she’s done a horrible job over the last two years. If people own up and actually work out the issues, we can advance.

  • Joe R.

    There is no logic behind hydrogen other than big oil keeping its current monopoly on transportation fuel. For hydrogen to work, we would need to build something like $1 trillion in new infrastructure. All that for what is basically just a less efficient battery. The supposed selling point of hydrogen was the quick refueling time. However, quick recharge stations, plus higher range for electrics, are pretty much making this one advantage moot. Also, recharge on the fly via inductive pickup is being tested. If it works, then there’s no reason to use hydrogen other than so big oil can keep its monopoly. I’ve read at best hydrogen would cost the equivalent of $5 gasoline, which is why big oil likes it. Electric “fuel” costs a fraction of that,. Moreover, you can make your own “free” fuel if you install solar panels.

  • Flatlander

    The issue with wires isn’t that they’re “icky” it’s that they dramatically lower the flexibility of your system. Suddenly you have an expensive issue on your hands every time you want to move the curb line or if you want to close a lane or two for construction. This can easily drive the cost of a streetscape or bike lane project

  • With trolleybuses?? I was being cynical.

    Seems both SF, Seattle, Vancouver, BC and Cambridge, Mass. operate Trolleybuses and yet have far better bicycle infrastructure than apparently Los Angeles is capable of creating.

  • Jerard Wright

    Before that when they went all in on a new technology prematurely with the Methanol Buses and then literally overnight they were breaking down before they got on the street and RTD/Metro had to scramble to find older buses to replace the newer cleaner technology buses that were out there. That is my one fear with going all on in electric battery buses before they had a chance to be battle tested. Because if that technology fails again there will never be the opportunity to go with electric buses.

    Mind you I personally hope your remove CEQA restrictions and agencies can purchase off the shelf Trolleybuses like the ones in Seattle and San Francisco where it is a reliable technology on the street from day one or improved engine technologies that can get us to the goal of zero emissions

  • John SFO

    Not really; if the bus is a series hybrid with trolley booms on it–or battery-equipped–the driver simply pushes a button to lower the booms and drives or detours around the obstruction. Moving the curb line–which isn’t very often–isn’t too troublesome most of the time because the wires can be moved farther left or right on their support cables as needed.

  • John SFO

    It is indeed quite true that there is a limited supply of ‘green’ electricity. Almost ⅔ of California’s electricity supply is fossil fuelled, but if trackless trolleys are used here’s the energy conversion chain: heat–>mechanical–>electrical–>mechanical in the trolley bus or trolley car, which is more efficient than motor buses. Where any battery-powered electric vehicle is concerned the energy conversion chain looks like this: heat–>mechanical–>electrical–>CHEMICAL–>ELECTRICAL–>mechanical in whatever type of vehicle. Note that there are two additional conversions of energy forms (with their inevitable attendant losses) with a battery-powered vehicle. This is not as important where the prime mover of your electric generators is nuclear, hydroelectric (actually solar), geothermal, wind (actually solar), photovoltaic, or solar boiler, because these sources don’t pollute or burn fossil fuels. However, it is indeed stupid from an energy efficiency standpoint to burn natural gas to generate electricity to charge tractive batteries; you’ll get better efficiency burning the natural gas directly in any internal combustion automotive engine.

    And for all of you Angelenos who have the fortune to be served by the city-owned LADWP… you should know that DWP owns a significant interest in (and operates) a COAL-BURNING power station–the Intermountain Power Station–which supplies a significant portion of the LADWP’s electricity, in addition to the cities of Anaheim, Burbank, Glendale, Pasadena, and Riverside via a dedicated megavolt HVDC transmission line, which sends most of the plant’s power to California, the state that claims to be ‘green’. But, wait! There’s more! LADWP has–until recently–also owned 21% of the Navajo Generating Station near Page, Arizona. (Ironically, this plant’s coal trains are brought in on an electric railway.) Indeed, according to an October 2015 article from the Institute for Energy Research, 50% of Southern California’s electricity comes from the aforementioned power plants, in addition to another plant in San Juan, New Mexico. That looks pretty brown to me!

    Contrast this to the cities of Seattle and Vancouver BC, which obtain at least 90% of their electricity from hydroelectric generation–really a form of solar energy, if you think about it. (It’s rather ironic, what with their notoriously dreary climates.) Their trackless trolleys are truly virtually emissions-free. Not in SoCal, though; however, electric trolleys, subways, locomotives are still an improvement in efficiency over diesel locomotives, which ironically are actually electric locomotives with on-board generating stations. Too bad the San Onofre NGS shut down–there went 2 gigawatts of emissions-free electricity down the toilet! The only good news is that some or all of the aforementioned coal-burning power stations may convert to natural gas, which burns much cleaner, and doesn’t dump mercury into the atmosphere. It seems unlikely that California will be able to replace the power from these generating stations inexpensively at any time in the near future.


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