Elec­tric buses are L.A.’s fu­ture

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

When the Los An­ge­les Metropoli­tan Trans­porta­tion Author­ity re­tired its last diesel-pow­ered bus in 2011, it be­came the first ma­jor tran­sit agency in the na­tion to com­pletely switch its fleet to al­ter­na­tive-fuel tech­nolo­gies, demon­strat­ing in the years that fol­lowed that buses run­ning on cleaner en­ergy could be both re­li­able and af­ford­able. Now in an ef­fort to cut pol­lu­tion even more, Metro is pre­par­ing to switch again — this time aim­ing to shift its en­tire 2,200-bus fleet to zero-emis­sions mod­els by 2030.

To that end, Metro’s Board of Di­rec­tors this week is ex­pected to ap­prove a con­tract to buy 35 elec­tric buses that would op­er­ate on the Orange Line busway in the San Fer­nando Val­ley. The plan is to com­plete the roll­out of elec­tric buses on the Orange Line by 2020 and by 2021 for the Sil­ver Line, which pro­vides ex­press ser­vice be­tween San Pe­dro, down­town L.A. and El Monte. If the buses per­form well, Metro would pro­ceed with plans to buy all zero-emis­sion buses over the next decade.

This is an about-face for the tran­sit agency. Un­til re­cently Metro was pur­su­ing plans to buy up to 1,000 com­pressed nat­u­ral gas buses, which are sig­nif­i­cantly cleaner than the old diesel mod­els but still pro­duce smog-form­ing pol­lu­tion and emit green­house gases. Metro staff mem­bers were hes­i­tant to com­mit to elec­tric buses af­ter some mod­els in a 2015 test ran out of charge quickly and had trou­ble climb­ing hills. But en­vi­ron­men­tal groups have been lob­by­ing for Metro to give elec­tric buses another chance, es­pe­cially af­ter other tran­sit agen­cies have had more suc­cess with newer mod­els.

Metro is right to move cau­tiously. The agency is still go­ing to buy some 300 nat­u­ral gas buses this year to re­place ag­ing ve­hi­cles. But the zero-emis­sion goal is an im­por­tant one. Large pub­lic agen­cies like Metro are well po­si­tioned to be lead­ers be­cause they have the pur­chas­ing power to spur the mar­ket for­ward.

When Metro, the na­tion’s sec­ond-largest pub­lic tran­sit agency, an­nounces plans to shift to zero-emis­sion buses, it sends a sig­nal across the in­dus­try. It shows man­u­fac­tur­ers that there are buy­ers for elec­tric buses. It shows other agen­cies that the tech­nol­ogy is ready for prime time, and it could en­cour­age them to switch as well. Los An­ge­les County can again lead on cleaner, greener buses.

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