L.A. METRO WANTS AN EMISSION-FREE FLEET BY 2030
L.A. Metro, Southern California’s biggest transit agency, retired its last diesel bus six years ago. Now, the transportation leaders are working toward a bolder goal: buses that don’t pollute at all. It should lead to an emissionfree fleet by 2030, a move that will require buying more than 2,300 buses that run on electric batteries or another form of zero-emission power, such as hydrogen.
Metro’s ambitious goal, at a time when no other major U.S. transit agency owns more than a handful of battery-powered buses, would make Los Angeles a proving ground for a relatively untested technology.
But the 2030 benchmark has prompted some questions from critics about how much Metro should spend on electric buses while the technology is still new and expensive. Supporters have said the agency’s investment could help a budding industry that pledges significant air-quality benefits.
Metro’s directors are expected to approve soon the first steps toward electrifying the bus fleet. The board will consider a $138-million proposal to buy 95 electric buses for two lines and to install the charging infrastructure needed to keep them running.
Each year, Metro replaces about 7% of its bus fleet, which is the nation’s second largest after New York’s. To meet the goal of a zero-emission fleet by 2030, the agency will need to start buying about 200 electric buses annually starting in 2019, officials said.
In the next two years, Metro will plan how to upgrade the wiring to accommodate higher wattages at stations and bus yards where the vehicles would recharge, and evaluate how those costly improvements would be funded.
Currently, each electric bus costs at least $200,000 more than its natural-gas counterpart. That figure does not include infrastructure upgrades and charging stations, costs that could be paid by the companies providing the buses. Electric buses will become cheaper than their gas counterparts some time in the next decade, and that Metro’s transition to zero-emission buses could happen “much more quickly” than 2030.
Metro has proposed a budget of $72 million for replacing the Orange Line’s buses. That includes $51 million for 35 electric buses from New Flyer of America Inc., and $7.8 million for charging stations at both ends of the line. The route should be fully electric by 2020, officials said.
Similar changes to the Silver Line will cost almost $66 million, officials said. That figure includes buying 60 electric buses from BYD, installing chargers along the route, and updating wiring to handle higher wattages. The line should be finished by 2021, officials said.
Metro’s first major electric bus purchase would represent less than 5% of the agency’s fleet, but would at least double the number of electric buses in use in California.
Gas stakeholders have urged Metro to adopt a new engine technology they call “near zero,” which runs on renewable natural gas. Installing those engines would provide more immediate air quality benefits, they said.
When Metro first purchased compressed natural gas buses in the 1990s, they cost $50,000 more than diesel vehicles, and the agency paid steep fees to install gas compressors in bus yards.
Early on in the push for natural gas, the gas tank in one of Metro’s first natural-gas buses exploded during a refueling. No one was injured, but Metro pulled all the buses from the road for a month.