Public transit agencies set to switch to zero-emission buses by the year 2040

Busses leaving the McBean Reagional Transit Center on the corner of McBean Parkway and Valencia Boulevard in Valencia. Cory Rubin/The Signal
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The California Air Resources Board voted last week to require public transit agencies to switch to zero-emission buses by 2040. Although not surprised by the news, Santa Clarita Transit officials said reaching that mark will require a hefty amount of work.

The board approved Friday what they called a “first-of-its-kind” regulation in the country to gradually make the transition.

“A zero-emission public bus fleet means cleaner air for all of us,” Mary D. Nichols, the board’s chair, said in a prepared statement.

Known as the Innovative Clean Transit regulation, the statewide effort aims to reduce emissions from the transportation sector, “which accounts for 40 percent of climate-changing gas emissions and 80-90 percent of smog-forming pollutants,” according to a press release by the board.

Santa Clarita Transit Manager Adrian Aguilar said, “Yes, they’re cleaner and a big benefit for the state of California, but it’s a long process.”

The local agency has not yet looked at the transition’s financial impact in Santa Clarita, he said, but the cost of each bus can place the matter into perspective. For example, the cost for a large electric bus averages around $750,000, while a diesel bus costs around $435,000.

“Buying the buses is the easy part, though,” said Aguilar. “The switch would require changing our infrastructure, like making sure we have the proper connections to the grid, updating to larger transformers, and adding opportunity battery charging stations.”

Aguilar said the city’s buses travel anywhere between 2 to 400 miles daily, raising the question of whether buses will be able to travel that long between charges. Some manufacturers have conducted battery tests, with records reaching more than 600 miles and at least one Proterra electric bus setting a 1,000-mile range record.

To successfully make the transition, agencies will have to submit a rollout plan under the regulation demonstrating how it plans to purchase the vehicles, build the necessary infrastructure and train the workforce.

Aguilar said Santa Clarita will be looking into creating a plan over the next six to nine months.

The City Council recently approved the purchase of new, near-zero-emission buses as part of its fleet replacement program to switch out the compressed natural gas-powered vehicles after they reach the end of their 12-year cycle.

“The board knows that we can’t make the switch overnight,” said Aguilar. “There’s a lot that will go into determining the best route for the city.”

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