The first electric bus in the Big Blue Bus (BBB) fleet will begin carrying passengers this month.
BBB is aiming for a nearly 70% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning its entire fleet to electric buses by 2030, a goal the Santa Monica City Council set three years ago. The agency’s first zero emissions bus will debut on Route 1, which ferries riders between UCLA, Santa Monica and Venice, and change routes every month.
The bus will eliminate 385,740 pounds of nitrous oxide emissions over its 12-year lifespan and provide a smoother, quieter ride for up to 75 passengers, said BBB director Ed King.
An additional 18 electric buses will drive on the BBB’s 20 Westside routes by 2021. By 2030, all 195 buses in the agency’s fleet will be powered by batteries charged with renewable electricity.
“Transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Mayor Gleam Davis. “The most that each and every one of us can do to reduce our emissions is get on this bus and adopt other carbon-light ways of getting around Santa Monica and the region as a whole.”
The bus that officials unveiled Wednesday costs $886,000 — about a quarter of a million dollars more than BBB’s existing renewable natural gas buses — and was purchased with federal grants and local funding from Measure M, the sales tax to support transit that county voters approved in 2016.
The higher cost of the electric bus is partially offset by fuel savings over its lifespan, King said. Other transit agencies in California and across the country are also buying electric buses, which will make them less expensive over time, he added.
Among the agencies going electric is LA Metro, which also plans to replace its fleet with electric buses by 2030 and received its first bus last month. Cities like Albuquerque and Minneapolis have also purchased electric buses, although some have encountered problems related to battery range.
BBB promises that its electric bus, which was manufactured by GILLIG in Livermore, California, can travel up to 150 miles on a single charge on its battery designed by the Indiana-based company Cummins.
King said the bus will be charged at night on the BBB lot in downtown Santa Monica. The $125,000 ChargePoint charger purchased for the bus will eventually serve other buses as well, he added.
The transition to electric buses over the next decade is expected to cost $78 million, according to an April 2018 analysis by city of Santa Monica staff. At the same time, BBB will be restructuring its routes and schedules to account for declining ridership.
After ridership fell 20% between 2014 and 2017 to slightly more than 13 million trips, the City Council directed BBB to cut service on low-demand routes and run buses more frequently in busy areas to avoid entering a financial deficit.
King said other transit agencies, including LA Metro, also experienced falling ridership during the same period.
The route changes BBB made in March are projected to reduce operating costs by about $3 million and boost passenger revenue by roughly $170,000.