The Big Blue Bus will move forward with an electric bus pilot program with a $3 million grant from the California State Transportation Agency. The funds will go toward the purchase of 10 zero-emissions battery electric buses, according to a press release from the BBB Tuesday. The $10 million pilot program will add a new express service and increase ridership on route 7, which extends east into Los Angeles on Pico Boulevard, according to the state agency.

“Receiving this grant is an important step in launching the Electric Blue pilot and getting us on the road to a 100 percent zero-emissions fleet as envisioned by the Santa Monica City Council,” said the BBB’s director, Ed King, in a statement Tuesday.
“Our continued commitment to sustainability will play a significant role in reducing not only the City’s carbon footprint but our entire service area in our continuing effort to expand mobility options for our community.”

The funding is provided through Senate Bill 1, a 2017 bill that provides $300 million a year in competitive grants for rail projects, zero-emission buses, and programs to improve transportation in disadvantaged communities.

Santa Monica is not the only local agency to receive funds from the agency. LA DOT received a $36 million grant toward replacing 112 propane buses with electric vehicles. The $102 million program will increase the frequency of DASH routes and add four new routes throughout Los Angeles. LA Metro will receive $330 million for light rail extensions that are expected to add over 120,000 daily riders by 2028.

The BBB transports about 54,000 commuters every day across a 58 square mile service area. The 200-bus fleet currently runs on renewable natural gas, which has helped cut emissions by up to 90 percent. A recent analysis found switching to electric buses could cut the BBB’s greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 70 percent if the agency procures 100 percent renewable energy from Southern California Edison.

The same analysis found switching the fleet to electric would increase costs by an additional $78 million through 2040, bringing the capital and operational costs to nearly half a billion dollars for the time frame. The rising costs would come as the agency battles declining ridership, with ticket sales falling 20 percent over the last three years.

Last week, the City Council told leaders at the BBB to move forward with an electric bus pilot program with the goal of transitioning the fleet by 2030. The BBB is now working on a transition plan to calculate the full cost of transitioning to electric, including the costs of installing chargers at the maintenance yard.

The BBB is not the only transit agency facing declining ridership. A January report from the Southern California Association of Governments said transit use has fallen significantly throughout the region over the last ten years. It’s estimated about 22 percent of the population rides the bus or rail at least occasionally, and seventy-five present of residents ride very little or not at all.

Kate Cagle

Senior reporter for the Santa Monica Daily Press