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Metro Taking Late Slow Steps Toward Approved Bus Electrification

G Line electric bus charging at North Hollywood station. Photo by Joe Linton/Streetsblog L.A.

A new Metro staff report gives a glimpse into Metro's snail-like progress toward board-mandated electrification of its bus fleet.

Back in July of 2017, the Metro board approved transitioning all of its ~2,500 bus fleet to be all electric by 2030. Some boardmembers were questioning if Metro buses could be all-electric before the 2028 Olympics, but ultimately the board adopted staff's preferred 2030 deadline.

At the time, the Metro board approved pilot electrification of the Metro's Bus Rapid Transit Lines. The G (Orange) Line was then scheduled to be all electric buses by the end of June 2020. The J (Silver) was scheduled to be all-electric buses this month. Those fast-tracked pilots should have informed subsequent electrification, including a 2019-2020 technology assessment, followed by a Spring 2020 Zero Emission Bus Master Plan update, and then a new electric bus procurement. None of those happened. In 2020, Metro applied for a state grant for $105 million worth of electric buses and charging infrastructure, but the application was not funded.

Metro's initial BRT electrification pilot was completed nearly a year late. The first G Line electric bus premiered in July 2020. Full electrification was expected in late 2020, but that didn't happen. As of the last month, the G Line is now fully electric.

Metro's announcement that
Metro's announcement that the G Line is now fully electric - spotted buried in the bottom corner on Metro's June 2020 service change brochure. Metro's well-funded communications teams often tout minor Metro matters, but to date, have avoided getting the word out about the agency's own bus electrification accomplishments. Metro's The Source blog has written more about electric cars than it has about the agency's own completion the G Line electrification.

This week's staff report presentation confirms that J Line BRT electrification is not going to meet its initial project date of completion this month. The report states that Metro "has identified an optimum charging strategy" for the J Line - with a $50 million price tag, on the agenda for board approval this month. Also, Metro is currently testing five (of 60 ordered) 40-foot electric buses manufactured by BYD, with "production to start upon proof of design."

Because the earlier pilots slipped with no new electric bus procurement on deck, the overall electrification timeline is slipping. The 2030 end date remains, but the ramping up is expected to occur more steeply. In 2017, Metro had planed to have 2,000 buses (80 percent of the fleet) electric by 2028. The agency now projects only 1,500 by 2028.

Metro's latest projection
Metro's latest projection backs way off of earlier electrification plans (below.) For example, the 2017 projection showed 500 electric buses in 2023; this 2021 projection pushed the 500 electric bus total back to 2026. Image via June 2021 Metro presentation
Graph showing Metro's planned transition to Zero-Emission Buses. Image via Metro staff report
2017 Metro graph showing planned transition to electric buses. Image via 2017 Metro presentation

Metro now anticipates that full electrification will cost $3.5 billion dollars. Metro's staff report states that "Over a 10-year period [note that this would already delay completion two years, pushing it back to 2032], this is an average of $350 million per year. In recent years Metro’s bus capital expenditures have averaged approximately $190 million. Therefore, Metro will need to identify funding sources to address the gap of approximately $160 million per year."

Metro bus electrification costs - from Metro presentation
Metro now anticipates that full bus electrification will cost $3.5 billion. Chart via Metro presentation

To catch up to its schedule, Metro expects to "continue to pursue competitive grants [and] identify additional funding sources."

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