After Years of Battles, Long Beach Transit Is About to Get Its First Electric Buses

It seems, finally, the novela that (hopefully) was Long Beach Transit (LBT) obtaining electric buses for its fleet has come toward a more progressive end, as the Board of LBT formally approved staff’s recommendation to go through with BYD Motors as the purveyor of LBT’s electric buses.

The April 27 LBT Board meeting resulted in five votes in favor for BYD Motors, the company involved in their second bid to procure zero-emission buses (ZEBs) for LBT against South Carolina-based Proterra and Canadian bus manufacturer New Flyer (who has two factories in Minnesota). Their bid for $9.675M was granted because it was deemed “the most responsive and responsible” by LBT staff, as well as the cheapest. This cost will be in addition to the $926.5K inductive charging system to be set up at the Queen Mary stop and a $467.4K contingency fund for any “additional technical requirements or unanticipated modifications[.]” This makes the total the staff requested and received stand at $11.07M.

That means 10 guaranteed buses come Summer 2016, with an option for 14 more.

Firstly, let’s make one thing clear: despite the drama, cheers should be meeting the decision to finally take LBT’s Passport route in DTLB—the route that largely caters to conventioneers, workers, and tourists, and is free—entirely electric. (Other routes were possible contenders included the 45, 46, 81, 111, 112, 121, 151, and 171; however, capacity and WAVE charger location ultimately gave the Passport the edge.)

I say this because I don’t want many (including myself, a vehement opponent against BYD’s initial bid in 2013) to dilute what is an essential reality: eventually, we have to all go electric, especially in transit.

Many have cited transit’s use of CNG (including LBT’s own use of CNG) as a great thing—it certainly pleases the pencil-pushers at municipalities—but it is, for the most part, just slightly cleaner than the next worst thing.  As one study explicitly states in its conclusion, “the use of natural gas is not a guarantee that emissions will actually drop.”

Even further, we have a tendency to immediately feel positive about things that we call “green”–a point made in New York Times article by University of Manchester Professor Kevin Anderson, who flat-out called natural gas a “very bad fuel” with “very high emissions indeed.” And this stirs fears that we end up, like diesel, dependent upon natural gas rather than actually substituting it. This isn’t to mention that CNG also has a higher fuel consumption rate than diesel, an inept fuel performance rate, and a cost that doesn’t seem to outweigh the benefit (if we are talking environmentally).

With electric buses, you have zero emissions–and true zero emissions. Given that electricity rates are increasing at some 2% per year versus crude oil increasing at 8%, you save a good chunk of change, while simultaneously keeping the money in-state rather than abroad since electricity money is generated typically in-state. This isn’t mentioning other maintenance costs: an electric bus’s centered maintenance point is replacing a battery (not an engine, alternator, tranny…), noise pollution decreases, a smoother and quieter ride (trust me: I actually rode one of BYD’s buses this year)…

And, of course and perhaps most importantly, there is the future. To use an all-too-common phrase used today, we want history on our side–and that, at least to lil’ ol’ me, most certainly includes the planet, probably the most important of all.

This, however, isn’t to ignore the past, especially when it comes to the relationship between BYD Motors and LBT.

BYD Motors, who initially scored LBT’s first electric bus bid back in April of 2013, was at the center of many controversies that marred their image. Failed Altoona testing, more not so good things from Altoona testing, some more bad things coming out of Altoona testing, battles with local labor organizations, a labor investigation by the State of California for wage violations, and the thing that finally squashed them: BYD had not included a signed Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) certificate of compliance as is required for them to receive the millions in Federal funding that would be required to complete the project. (For an interactive timeline I created that gives a full breakdown of the BYD saga, click here.)

There was one abstention from Monday’s second vote for BYD Motors and it came from Maricela de Rivera, who was one of the most outspoken opponents of BYD’s initial bid (and one of the two votes, along with that of former Boardmember Lori Ann Farrell, that voted against BYD’s recommendation in 2013). Her abstention speaks volumes for many who were deeply involved in the BYD novela and that is perhaps—perhaps—this: “I have nothing more to say, including offering support for a company who lied but I also can’t stop this project from moving forward because it is important to us on a larger scale.”

Or maybe, she just didn’t care by this point. Either way, speculation is just that—and the one thing we no longer have to speculate on is whether we’ll be getting ZEB on our routes (which is an unbelievably awesome thing).

Disclosure: the opinions expressed in this piece are exclusively that of its author, Mr. Addison.

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