After purchasing its first zero-emissions bus in August, the Big Blue Bus will purchase an additional 18 electric buses to replace aging vehicles in its fleet.
BBB is aiming for a nearly 70% reduction in its greenhouse gas emissions by transitioning its entire fleet to battery-powered buses by 2030, a goal the Santa Monica City Council set three years ago. The council approved the purchase of 18 electric buses last Tuesday and they will drive on the BBB’s 20 Westside routes by 2021, BBB director Ed King said in August.
“Transportation is the biggest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions,” Mayor Gleam Davis said when the BBB’s first battery-powered bus was unveiled in August. “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.”
Each bus will cost $800,000 — about $200,000 more than BBB’s existing renewable natural gas buses — in federal grant funding and local funding from Measure M, the sales tax to support transit that county voters approved in 2016. The chargers for each bus cost about $125,000.
Including taxes, upgrades, training and other costs, the total price of the 18 buses and their chargers comes in at $21.5 million.
King said the battery-powered buses will replace 18 buses purchased in 2004 and 2006 that are reaching the end of their lifespans. Over the 12 years they will be in service, they will eliminate 385,740 pounds of nitrous oxide emissions.
They also provide a smoother, quieter ride, King said. The first battery-powered bus BBB purchased, which has been serving the 1, 3 and 9 routes since August, has received positive feedback from both bus drivers and customers.
The higher cost of the electric bus is partially offset by fuel savings over its lifespan, King said. Other transit agencies in California and other states are also buying electric buses, which will make them less expensive over time, he added.
Among the other agencies going electric is LA Metro, which also plans to replace its fleet with electric buses by 2030 and received its first bus in July. Cities like Albuquerque and Minneapolis have also purchased electric buses, although some have encountered problems related to battery range.
King said the buses, which are 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.
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, a trend that has also impacted LA Metro and other transit agencies both in Southern California and around the country.
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. It also took five buses out of service.
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.