Renewable Natural Gas and Electricity Should Power Los Angeles Bus Fleet

It's not one or the other but both, argues Denny Zane of Move LA in a guest commentary for the Los Angeles Daily News about the decision that Los Angeles County Metro will make on June 22 on the future of the nation's second largest bus fleet.

3 minute read

June 12, 2017, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

"With advances in technology, Metro’s board doesn’t have to pick one over the other because both are viable options and both are super clean — and even staff at Metro recognize this reality," opines Zane, a former mayor of Santa Monica and executive director of Move LA, a transit advocacy group based in Los Angeles.

"But aren’t electric buses cleaner?" Zane asks. After all, unlike buses that burn renewable or fossil natural gas, they lack tailpipes.

Metro staff and their consultant, Ramboll Environ, say not necessarily so. They found using CNG buses fueled by renewable gas would better reduce greenhouse gases and other pollutants than electric, taking into account power plant emissions and diversion of methane from landfills and dairies that otherwise goes directly into the atmosphere. Near-zero natural-gas technology is also less expensive, less than half the cost of electric. [See Board report for biomethane provider]

That is my understanding as well based on an analysis of carbon-intensity values [pdf] listed in California Air Resources Board's (ARB) Low Carbon Fuel Standard program described in a 2014 post. Bio-gas, both from landfills and from dairy bio-digesters [look under compressed natural gas] had the lowest rankings of 11.26 and 13.45, respectively. By contrast, electricity has a value over a hundred, but as the comment indicates, that translates into "a light duty carbon intensity value of 30.5-36.5 for light duty vehicles, and heavy duty intensities to about 38.5-45."

The decision has broader implications

However, Zane's main point is that Metro's decision has important implications for public health in Los Angeles, which has the nation's worst air quality (along with Bakersfield) according to the American Lung Association's State of the Air 2016 report. Metro's current fleet, which runs on clean natural gas, is part of the solution. It's heavy trucks, particularly older ones, where the problem lies.

According to the ARB report [pdf], "particulate matter from diesel-fueled engines (diesel PM) contributes over 70% of the known risk from air toxics today." ARB adds, "In 1998, ARB identified DPM [Diesel Particulate Matter] as a toxic air contaminant based on published evidence of a relationship between diesel exhaust exposure and  lung cancer and other adverse health effects."

Zane would like to see zero emissions buses operating on the shorter routes and the new clean natural gas buses, running on renewable natural gas, on the longer routes.

Successfully deploying both super-clean natural gas as well as electric transit buses is the best strategy to help transition the trucking industry to cleaner technologies in all applications, short-haul and long-haul. That is the best strategy to improve our region’s air quality.

In a related but separate development, Metro will power 200 of its buses on renewable natural gas in a one-year pilot, reports Rich Piellisch for Fleets & Fuels on May 29. If it goes well, it could lead to a second, four-year pilot for 2,200 buses.

Separately LA Metro is to begin retrofitting and replacing its buses with new super low-NOx Cummins Westport engines. LA Metro was the first to get New Flyer buses with the 8.9-liter ISL G Near Zero engine (F&F, August 17, 2016).

Related in Planetizen:

Hat tip to Len Conly.

Wednesday, May 24, 2017 in Los Angeles Daily News

View of small-town street with brick buildings and cars parked in diagonal parking with string lights going across street in Cleveland County, Oklahoma.

Norman, Oklahoma Eliminates Parking Mandates

The city made a subtle, one-word change that frees up developers to build parking based on actual need and eliminates costly unnecessary parking.

September 14, 2023 - Next City

Few passengers waiting in subway station with multiple platforms and "North Station" signs in Boston, Massachusetts

Boston Transit Riders Report Safety Concerns

Almost three-quarters of current and former riders report feeling unsafe while using MBTA services.

September 18, 2023 - Hoodline

View of Boston from Bunker Hill with statue in foreground

Boston to Begin Zoning Code Update, Mayor Announces

It’s been nearly 60 years, but the city of Boston is finally ready to do a comprehensive rewrite of its zoning code.

September 14, 2023 - The Boston Globe

Sidewalk in Seattle with yellow fall leaves on the ground and cars parked next to the curb.

Proposal Could Mandate Sidewalks as Part of Seattle Complete Streets

Almost a third of the city’s neighborhood streets lack sidewalks.

5 hours ago - The Urbanist

View of San Francisco neighborhood from top of hill with misty bay in background.

San Francisco Supervisors Punt Housing Ordinance

After hours of public comment, the zoning reform package aimed at increasing housing production and limiting red tape was delayed for further discussion.

7 hours ago - SF Standard

Woman wearing helmet riding POGOH bike share bike in bike lane in Pittsburgh, PA.

Pittsburgh Launches Adaptive Bike Share Fleet

The new bikes include a recumbent bicycle and a front-loading cargo bike.

September 24 - Pittsburgh Magazine