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L.A. Metro Needs Until 2035 to Achieve Zero Emissions

Four Los Angeles city-based Metro board members urged the transit agency to adopt an aggressive conversion plan to meet the original goal of 100 percent zero-emission buses by 2030. But the five-year delay will likely stand.

When L.A. Metro’s staff announced that meeting the agency’s adopted goal of 100 percent zero-emission buses by 2030 was no longer achievable, four of the Los Angeles city-based Metro board members pushed back.

Mayor Karen Bass, Los Angeles City Council President Paul Krekorian, L.A. City Council member Kate Yaroslavsky and Bass-appointee Jacquelyn Dupont-Walker joined together in a motion adopted by the full Metro Board on Thursday, April 26, to encourage the transit agency to stay on track with an aggressive conversion plan and not push the goal back to 2035.

The board motion asks the staff to develop a strategy for buying more electric or hydrogen-powered buses sooner rather than later, and tap into the federal Inflation Reduction Act funding for zero-emission infrastructure that reduces local smog and greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change.

“The board should make it clear that when the board sets goals, we don’t do so lightly,” Yaroslavsky said, adding that the 2030 goal was adopted in 2017 and not enough progress has been made in the past seven years. “Getting there by 2030 I know is difficult,” she said. “But I don’t understand the apparent lack of strategy in pursuing this goal.”

The motion, led by Yaroslavsky, also directs the agency to move ahead with charging ports and or hydrogen refueling stations in the near term, even if it means taking funds from other capital projects. The motion was softened to say that the changeover must not affect bus service.

The motion does not set any new requirements, but rather encourages a more “ambitious and actionable” schedule for the emission-free buses and the necessary charging infrastructure.

Most likely, due to a dwindling number of electric bus manufacturers, rising costs, grid capacity issues and electric bus ranges that do not meet longer-route requirements, the staff recommendation to delay the compliance date from 2030 to 2035 will stand, barring some marketplace or technology changes.

Metro staff said with most zero-emission buses maxing out at 150-mile range, this would be OK for many bus routes but not all. The existing technology of zero-emission buses would not meet all 2,000 of Metro’s network of buses, according to the staff.

Bass said she was pleased to be a co-author on the motion. “It creates more accountability and it will look at how we can make Metro more competitive for grant funding,” she said.

Others from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union and nonprofit groups supported the change to emission-free buses.

“Procuring the buses on that schedule was always going to be a challenge,” said Jack Symington, senior program manager of the Los Angeles Clean Tech Incubator. “There was an understanding Metro would be aggressively pursuing this,” he added, saying delaying the changeover until 2035 sends the wrong message.

Yaroslavsky agreed.

“We all recognize how important it is we clean up our air and act as a leader in addressing climate change,” she said.

In a Metro committee meeting earlier this month when the issue was discussed, Metro board member and Inglewood Mayor James Butts said the agency should wait for newer technology advances. He pointed out that the California Air Resources Board sets the state deadline at 2040.

“If the state deadline is 2040, why push it?” Butts said. “Aren’t we cutting our own throats by having this artificial rush?”

Butts and the Metro staff agreed that it would be less costly and more reasonable to wait five more years, so that battery-operated and hydrogen fuel-cell buses can advance in range and perhaps drop in cost.

Yaroslavsky countered, saying those who advocate waiting longer to convert compressed natural gas buses to emission-free buses are wrong. “There are already a million electric buses on the road (in the United States),” she said. “It is well-developed and understood. We are well past the start-up phase of this technology.”

When some questioned whether the electricity produced would be clean, Krekorian said LADWP will achieve 100 percent clean energy by 2035.

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority changed to an all-electric bus fleet of 87 buses in 2022, the first transit agency in the country to do so. All the buses on the Metro G (Orange) Line were converted to electric.

Other agencies have had trouble with the performance of electric buses, including Foothill Transit in the San Gabriel Valley. Foothill Transit let go of its 2030 goal and instead, is following the state’s 2040 target.

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