City of Santa Monica

Staff Report

Fleet Composition Study


Department:Big Blue Bus, Finance & Administrative ServicesSponsors:
Category:04. Study Sessions

Recommended Action


Recommended Action

Staff recommends that the City Council:

1)     Review, and provide guidance to staff on the future implementation of a BBB vehicle propulsion technology for the BBB fleet to achieve a goal of Zero Emissions;

2)     Provide feedback regarding a proof of concept program for evaluating the operational effectiveness and efficiency of a sub-fleet of electric buses which shall consist of up to 10 battery electric buses and requisite infrastructure at the BBB yard; and

3)     Authorize staff to work with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Office of Innovation, FTA Region 9 Office, and Gillig, LLC for the procurement of one 40-foot electric propelled bus from Gillig, LLC under the FTA’s Prototype Waiver Program that would be produced in December 2018, and placed into revenue service in January 2019.

Staff Report Body


Executive Summary


Big Blue Bus provides regional transit service for 13.6 million passengers a year, serving an area covering 58 square miles.  Since the 1990’s, Big Blue Bus (BBB) has been a leader in using cost efficient environmentally-friendly vehicle propulsion technology for its fixed route bus fleet. With the advent of new propulsion technology being tested and evaluated at many California transit agencies and the potential that the California Air Resources Board (ARB) proposed Innovative Clean Transit (ICT) regulation being finalized later this year, staff initiated an analysis to compare the economic and environmental benefits for future vehicle procurements under two propulsion scenarios: 1) transitioning BBB’s existing fleet to near-zero NOx emission (NZE) natural gas engines that would continue to be fueled by renewable natural gas (RNG); and, 2) transitioning BBB’s existing fleet to battery electric buses (BEB).  



Staff is committed to providing an objective and unbiased approach to help guide Council, and while the GNA report summary and cost implications for each fuel path are provided in the staff report, there are inherent tradeoffs with each fuel path scenario, upsides to each, and unknowns with Scenario Number 2, (transition the fleet to BEBs) due to how new this technology is in the transit industry. At the end of the day, BBB is committed to consistently provide financially sustainable, efficient, effective and safe mobility services to our customers and the community on a daily basis.


Understanding that this technology is new in the transit industry, staff recommends a responsible approach to first prototyping the application of electric bus operation on the BBB system, and moving forward with the implementation of a proof of concept program with measurable outcomes for success with a small fleet of electric buses over the next 2 years to lay the groundwork for a transition to a 100% zero-emissions fleet.



BBB operates twenty fixed routes that include traditional local transit service, commuter transit, express service, and community-based circulators. The urban area serviced by BBB’s transit fleet includes the entire Westside region of Los Angeles. The BBB fleet provides service to approximately 13.6 million passengers annually in an urban service area of 58 square miles. The fleet’s service area is vastly larger than the City’s municipal service boundary of 8.4 square miles.


To provide these services, BBB operates a fleet of 200 natural gas urban transit buses which include nineteen (19) 30-35 foot buses, (153) 40-foot buses, and twenty-eight (28) 60-foot articulated buses. Approximately 60% of the fleet is model year 2011 or newer buses. The entire fleet is powered by natural gas engines fueled with renewable natural gas. Today, 62 ½ percent of the fleet operates on compressed natural gas (CNG) and 37.5% operates on liquefied natural gas (LNG). However, all LNG buses within the fleet would be retired by 2019.

Figure 1 - BBB's Current Revenue Vehicles (Note: ISLG refers to a Cummins Engine model)


The transit facility consists of a maintenance facility, administrative buildings, fueling infrastructure, wash bays, bus yard, and a maintenance parking lot for staff vehicles. The maintenance facility was remodeled in 2009 and there are currently no plans to expand the facility.


Two fueling stations are physically located on BBB’s property. A private on-site station is located within the fenced boundary of the transit facility, while a public access station is located outside of the fenced boundary but still on BBB’s property. BBB’s transit fleet is supplied with CNG (via the LCNG station) and LNG from renewable liquefied natural gas (RLNG) that is procured from Clean Energy. On average, Clean Energy delivers one load of RLNG each day which is transported via tanker truck from Clean Energy’s Boron LNG plant. An onsite storage tank supplies the RLNG to the LCNG and LNG dispensers that are co-located within the drive-through wash bays.


Southern California Edison (SCE) provides electricity to the transit facility. On average, BBB’s electricity cost is higher than that of surrounding utility customers because the City procures a higher fraction of renewable electricity in its electricity mix than SCE’s average delivered electricity mix. The low carbon electricity is purchased via a third party energy service provider (ESP) but is delivered through SCE’s distribution system.


During peak service days, which occur Monday through Friday, BBB’s fleet operates 240 daily weekday assignments which require 162 transit buses during peak weekday service. The average distance of an assignment is 71 miles; however, individual assignments range from 13 miles up to 181 miles. Some transit buses receive more than one assignment during a peak day. The majority of route operations occur on primarily flat surfaces, however, there are a small number of route assignments, such as those travelling to and from the Pacific Palisades area, that entail a significant amount of elevation change.



Fuel Path Analysis

To help staff better understand the issues surrounding vehicle propulsion systems, the consulting firm of Gladstein, Neandross & Associates/Ramboll prepared a detailed analysis looking at the different fuel paths. For each of the vehicle deployment scenarios, cost and emissions profiles were developed on a per-mile, annual, and lifecycle basis using fleet composition, operational, and procedural data provided by BBB, as well as assumptions where necessary in order to characterize the recently commercialized alternative technologies. The operational cost for each transit bus technology is an aggregate of individual cost factors that include bus capital, fuel, operations and maintenance (O&M), midlife overhaul, fuelling infrastructure, and facility modification costs. Data provided by BBB and assumptions were evaluated to quantify the individual cost factors as a component of the overall cost. The emissions evaluated as part of the analysis include greenhouse gases (GHGs), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and particulate matter (PM10).


The analysis found the total per-mile operational cost for BBB’s existing transit buses to be $2.789/mi compared to $2.829/mi for near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit buses and $4.054/mi for battery electric transit buses if purchased in 2017. While significant operating cost reductions are not expected for BBB’s existing buses or for NZE natural gas buses over the next 20 years, it is widely projected that operating costs for battery electric buses will fall over time.


The analysis projects that battery electric buses purchased in 2030 would have an average operating cost of $3.382/mi. Over a 12-year lifecycle, the operational cost of BBB’s existing transit bus is approximately $1,079,343/bus compared to $1,094,823/bus for near-zero NOx emission transit buses, $1,568,898/bus for battery electric transit buses purchased in 2017, and $1,308,834/bus for battery electric buses purchased in 2030. This represents an incremental cost of $15,480/bus for near-zero NOx emission transit buses, $489,555/bus for battery electric transit buses purchased in 2017, and $229,491/bus for battery electric transit buses purchased in 2030. Estimated costs for battery electric transit buses take into account significant reductions in battery costs over time and are net of projected credits that BBB could generate under California’s Low Carbon Fuel Standard (LCFS).




The emissions analysis found well-to-wheel (WTW) GHG emissions of BBB’s existing transit bus to be 1,475 grams per mile (g/mi) compared to 1,213 g/mi emitted from near-zero NOx transit buses, and 8.88 g/mi for battery electric transit buses purchased in 2017 and in 2030. Well-to-tank (WTT) NOx emissions were found to be 4.53 g/mi for BBB’s existing transit buses, 4.55 g/mi for near-zero NOx transit buses, and 0.0653 g/mi for battery electric transit buses purchased in 2017 and in 2030. Tank-to-wheel (TTW) NOx emissions were found to be 0.581 g/mi emitted by BBB’s existing transit buses compared to 0.045 g/mi emitted from near-zero NOx transit buses and 0.00 g/mi emitted from battery electric transit buses purchased in 2017 and in 2030.

Transit Bus Emissions Profiles

BBB Existing Transit Bus

NZE NOx CNG Transit Bus

2017 Battery Electric Transit Bus

2030 Battery Electric Transit Bus

WTW GHG Emissions

1,475 g/mi

1,213 g/mi

8.88 g/mi

8.88 g/mi


   WTT NOx Emissions

4.53 g/mi

4.55 g/mi

0.0653 g/mi

0.0653 g/mi

   TTW NOx Emissions

0.581 g/mi

0.045 g/mi

0.000 g/mi

0.000 g/mi

WTW NOx Emissions

5.111 g/mi

4.600 g/mi

0.065 g/mi

0.065 g/mi


In addition to evaluating the cost and emissions performance of the individual transit bus technologies, BBB’s fleet-wide costs and emissions were evaluated over the proposed ICT regulatory timeframe that is currently under development by the ARB. The figure below displays BBB’s existing fleet transitioning to near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit buses according BBB’s planned replacement schedule.



During the 23-year implementation timeframe of the ICT regulation, BBB would incur a cost of approximately $414 million as a result of continuing to procure and operate their existing transit bus technology. The analysis found that BBB would incur a cost of approximately $418 million as a result of transitioning the existing fleet to a near-zero NOx emission natural gas fleet, representing an incremental cost of approximately $4 million. The analysis also found that BBB would incur a cost of approximately $492 million (an incremental cost of $78 million) as a result of transitioning to a battery electric fleet assuming expected reductions in battery costs and net of projected LCFS credits generated across the timeframe.


BBB Fleet Costs – 2018-2040

BBB Existing Transit Fleet

NZE NOx CNG Transit Fleet

Battery Electric Transit Fleet

Fleet Operational Costs

$ 413,748,150

$ 417,803,910

$ 492,001,711

Incremental Cost Relative to Baseline Scenario

$  -

↑ $ 4,055,760

↑ $ 78,253,561


Transitioning BBB’s fleet to near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit buses would reduce the fleet’s WTW GHG emissions by 26,724 MT (metric tons) during the timeframe. Transitioning BBB’s existing fleet to a battery electric fleet would significantly reduce fleet-wide GHG emissions by approximately 150,000 MT during the timeframe. However, the reductions provided by the transition to battery electric transit buses come at a cost of approximately $78 million or approximately $526/MT. The majority (approximately 99%) of WTW GHGs emitted during the transition to a battery electric fleet are the emissions from BBB’s existing transit buses as they operate for the remainder of their useful lives.


The analysis found that transitioning to either of the alternative scenarios technologies would yield significant TTW NOx reductions. During the timeframe, transitioning to a near zero NOx emission natural gas transit fleet yields a 63% reduction from the baseline scenario while the transition to a battery electric transit fleet buses yields a 68% reduction from the baseline scenario.


Though the reductions achieved by each scenario are comparable, there is a significant difference in the costs that would be incurred. At an incremental cost of approximately $4 million, the 60.1 tons of NOx reduced as a result of transitioning to a near-zero NOx natural gas fleet would cost approximately $67,484/ton. In contrast, the 65.1 tons of NOx reduced as a result of transitioning to a battery electric transit fleet would cost approximately $1,202,052/ton (approximately 1800% more than the cost of the reductions that would result from transitioning to an NZE NOx fleet) because the incremental cost of transitioning to a battery electric transit fleet is approximately $78 million.


BBB Fleet Emissions – 2018-2040

BBB Existing Transit Fleet

NZE NOx CNG Transit Fleet

Battery Electric Transit Fleet

TTW NOx Emissions

95.2 tons

35.1 tons

30.1 tons

Reductions Relative to Baseline Scenario


↓ 60.1 tons

↓ 65.1 tons

Cost of TTW NOx Emissions Reductions





The analysis also found that transitioning to a near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit fleet would not yield any significant PM10 (particulate matter) reductions. The reason is the Cummins ISL G Near-Zero (NZ) and the Cummins ISL G (equipped in BBB’s existing transit buses) have the same certified PM10 emissions values. In contrast, transitioning to a battery electric transit fleet yields a 68% reduction from the baseline scenario. While this is a significant percent reduction, the PM emissions from each of the scenarios is very small because natural gas engines have extremely low PM10 emissions.


In summary, the analysis found that, at an incremental cost of approximately $4 million, the transition of BBB’s existing fleet to a fleet of near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit buses would result in a small decrease in GHG emissions and a significant reduction in TTW NOx emissions. At an incremental cost of approximately $78 million, the transition of BBB’s existing fleet to battery electric transit buses would result in GHG and TTW NOx emissions reductions that are more costly compared to those achieved from the deployment of near-zero NOx emission natural gas transit buses.


The results of the analysis are based on projections of significant operating cost reductions for battery electric buses over time. These reductions are based on large reductions in battery storage costs and projections of revenue from the LCFS program. Changes in these assumptions would have a dramatic impact on the total estimated project costs. Were battery storage costs to remain constant (and not fall over time as they almost certainly will based on history), the incremental cost of converting the entire fleet to battery electric buses would increase to approximately $130 million as opposed to approximately $78 million.


The LCFS program works with other programs in California, such as the Cap-and-Trade Program, to reduce transportation-related GHG emissions. Credits are generated from the use of low carbon fuels in the transportation sector. Regulated entities, such as petroleum refiners, are required to purchase credits to offset the GHG emissions associated with the higher carbon fuels that they produce. It is the demand for these credits by regulated entities that sets the credit price. Though the credit price has remained stable in recent years, future credit prices would be established in an open market environment and any fluctuations in the price of the credit would directly impact BBB’s cost of operating battery electric buses.


Funding Opportunities

With the proposed 23-year length of a transition to a zero emission fleet, it is impossible to accurately predict what the funding landscape would look like. However, this section describes existing federal, state, and county programs and incentives outside of BBB’s ongoing funding streams that could help pay for alternatively-fuelled buses.


The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) offers two relatively small funding pots for the purchase of zero-emission transit buses. The Low or No Emission Competitive Program (LoNo) provides funding to state and local governmental authorities for the purchase or lease of zero-emission and low-emission transit buses as well as acquisition, construction, and leasing of required supporting facilities. The LoNo Program distributes $55 million nationwide. Big Blue Bus applied for funding for battery electric buses in the FTA’s last funding cycle but was not selected.


The FTA also offers the Bus & Bus Facilities Infrastructure Investment Program which allows agencies to replace, rehabilitate and purchase buses and related equipment and to construct bus-related facilities including technological changes or innovations to modify low or no emission vehicles or facilities. The Bus and Bus Facilities Program distributes $226 million nationally. BBB currently submitted an application for the purchase of seven battery electric vehicles through this program but was not selected.


The state’s funding opportunities for zero and near zero engines have been increasing in recent years. For example, the Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) provides vouchers to help California fleets purchase advanced technology trucks and buses. HVIP provides vouchers for California purchasers and lessees of hybrid and zero-emission trucks and buses on a first-come, first-served basis. Purchasers of fixed route zero emission buses receive $110,000 per vehicle while using near zero engines receive $10,000 to offset costs. BBB would utilize these vouchers regardless of the fuel path chosen.


To help with the implementation costs of the ICT regulation, the ARB has recently proposed to invest one-third of the VW Mitigation Trust in zero-emission buses. The program would create a maximum incentive of up to $180,000 for a new battery electric transit bus, up to $400,000 for a new fuel cell electric transit bus, and up to $100,000 for a new battery electric shuttle bus. These maximum funding amounts exceed the maximum funding amounts allowed under HVIP. Unfortunately, no funding is proposed for charging infrastructure.


In January, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) approved the first transportation electrification applications under SB 350 from the three large investor-owned utilities. The decision approves 15 projects with combined budgets of $42 million statewide. One approved project in Southern California Edison’s (SCE) area is $3.9 million for “Electric Transit Bus Make-Ready.” SCE would deploy make-ready infrastructure at bus depots and along bus routes to serve electric commuter buses operating in SCE’s service territory. SCE would also provide a rebate to participating customers to cover the cost of the charging equipment and installation. SCE would maximize the electric transit bus routes it supports in disadvantaged communities.


The California State Transportation Agency has recently finished accepting applications for the next round of Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program (TIRCP). The TIRCP aims to increase ridership on the state-wide transit and rail network and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The five-year program is anticipated to distribute $2.4 billion. Big Blue Bus recently submitted a grant application to CALSTA asking for $3.05 million to pay for the incremental cost of ten 40-foot battery electric buses. The total cost of the ten vehicle program would be $9.7 million. Associated infrastructure costs were not included in the request in order to make the application more competitive.


At the County level, BBB’s participation in Metro’s Bus Operations Subcommittee (BOS) allows it to apply for bus replacements and facility improvements. The BOS distributes 15% of Los Angeles County’s Federal 5307 Capital funds on an annual basis. Typically, the fund source spreads approximately $17 million among the sixteen Municipal Operators. The funds are allocated based on a competitive process.


Context for All-Electric Fleet Conversion

With over 200 public transit systems operating about 14,000 buses, the State of California is leading the way nationally in making the commitment to an all zero-emission fleet. Within the state, seven transit agencies have committed to making full transition to an all-electric fleet by the year 2030. LA Metro currently has 100 zero-emission vehicles on order, and has committed to the conversion if their new vehicles comply with performance benchmarks. Foothill Transit and the City of Los Angeles Department of Transportation (LADOT) have also made the same commitment to have an all zero-emission fleet by 2030. Foothill Transit has 30 zero-emission buses on the road; Long Beach Transit has 10. LADOT has four vehicles on the road and recently ordered 25 more zero emission vehicles. Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) has eight buses on the street and an order placed for all 85 of their buses to be battery electric by the end of 2019. Elsewhere in the United States, King County Metro in Seattle has committed to purchasing 120 all electric battery buses by 2020 with the goal of having a 100% zero emission fleet between 2034 and 2040.


The number of manufacturers currently providing battery electric buses is limited but the number is growing as more transit systems commit to the new technology. Two battery electric only bus manufacturers - Proterra and BYD - currently sell most of the battery electric buses across the United States. Other legacy bus manufacturers such as New Flyer and Gillig are also entering the battery electric marketplace.


The most exhaustive study of battery electric bus performance was completed in June 2017 by the US Department of Energy's National Renewable Energy Laboratory on twelve Foothill Transit buses. The study compared the performance of Proterra battery electric buses versus Foothill's NABI CNG vehicles as a baseline. Highlights of the study include: the twelve battery electric buses accumulating more than 900,000 miles during the study period; the buses surpassed their target of 4,000 miles between road calls with more than 6,000 miles during the evaluation period; the on-route chargers operated reliably with minimal issues; and the high voltage batteries showed little to no sign of capacity degradation during the study period.


Conversely, the short-range on-route charged buses are inflexible and cannot be deployed to other routes; the higher use of air conditioning lowers the effective range in hotter months; charger availability is needed for successful vehicle deployment; and the CNG buses did significantly outperform the battery electric bus in many of the evaluation areas.  For comparison, BBB’s miles between road failures on the CNG and LNG fleets are more than 18,000 miles. Additionally, systems in Albuquerque, NM, and Long Beach have experienced significant delays in BEB deliveries from vendors, delaying new projects that both systems had intended to launch in early 2017.


Based upon proactive discussions with Southern California Edison, and through staff evaluation of the proposed SCE medium- and heavy-duty vehicle charging infrastructure that includes transit agencies, staff has identified up to 23 potential charging unit locations within the maintenance/parking yard where BEBs could be charged overnight. 




BBB all-Electric Fleet Challenges

One of the many challenges with converting the fleet to electric is operational and maintenance continuity of operations.  As buses become eligible for replacement under the FTA funding regulations that BBB follows, transitioning and operating a dual fueled fleet becomes complex. During the conversion, more space would be needed for infrastructure required to support charging the BBB electric fleet, while still maintaining RNG fueling facilities for the CNG fleet including giving consideration to back-up power and energy storage.  As BBB is already constrained by the size of the yard and facilities from which it operates, a feasibility and transition analysis would need to be conducted to inform staff and stakeholders on best practices and how to ensure that service delivery to BBB’s 54,000 daily customers remains consistent.


Other challenges and critical areas that need to be reviewed prior to transition to an all-electric fleet include: training of mechanic staff on new fleet propulsion technology; route specific energy analysis; impacts of a replacement analysis greater that one-to-one for electric buses; and the evaluation of electric bus technology advancements and reduced battery costs that are hard to accurately predict.  While these challenges exist, there are many opportunities for growth of BBB’s understanding of electric bus technology.   


BBB Transition Plan

Understanding the unknowns, benefits, costs, tradeoffs, and the City’s desire to move toward an all-electric fleet, staff continues to responsibly and conscientiously prepare and plan for that transition. 


To address the electric bus fleet and new infrastructure costs, staff continues to seek additional funding for both, applying for new federal and state programs for this technology, as well as meeting with SCE to learn about their new programs. As mentioned earlier, a TIRCP grant has been submitted to partially fund up to ten new electric vehicles.  BBB anticipates announcement of successful grant applications by May 2018. Previous grant submittals for FTA LoNo funding and Bus and Bus Infrastructure Program funding were not successful. Staff has scheduled a conference call with FTA staff on 4/20/18 to discuss our recent grant submittals and how to improve future grant applications.


Staff continues to work with American Public Transportation Association, California Transit Association and sister agencies to maintain the pulse and knowledge of the market. Locally, staff has joined the LA Regional Electric Bus Working Group to collaboratively work with our peers to find solutions for implementation and to the increased costs of this technology. Staff is also working on the Zero Emission Bus Procurement Committee to provide input to the State Department of General Services (DGS) for the creation of a statewide electric bus procurement, giving us options to buy our buses as funding comes in. Additionally, we are in dialogue with Southern California Edison (SCE) to layout plans and estimate costs for converting our property to support a 100% electric fleet.  In those conversations, we have learned of SCE’s work with the CPUC for potential funding for infrastructure. We would continue to monitor all funding possibilities. 


Finally, BBB has initiated a collaborative effort with FTA, Gillig and the Honolulu Transit System to test one of Gillig’s five total prototype battery electric buses that they are building at the end of this calendar year. In June or early July 2018, staff will recommend to council procurement of one prototype electric bus. This pilot project would help BBB immediately begin to evaluate the technology and the application of operating an electric bus within our service area and how it would impact our operations as we transition to an electric fleet.


Following best practices, we would perform route, charge and rate modeling to better prepare for a future implementation plan. This process would ultimately help staff understand the differences of this technology and how best to procure, deploy and operate electric buses into the BBB fleet mix. Staff would continue efforts with our funding partners to apply for grants to fund electric bus purchases.


Financial Impacts & Budget Actions

There is no immediate financial impact or budget action associated with conducting the study session. Depending on the direction given, costs associated with purchasing new vehicles and accompanying infrastructure may be affected.




Meeting History

Apr 24, 2018 5:30 PM  City Council Regular Meeting
draft Draft