California Passes Law Requiring New City Buses To Be Electric By 2029

An electric battery powered bus

In California, mass transit agencies will only be allowed to buy buses that are fully electric starting in 2029 and will require all buses to be emission-free by 2040. This is a regulation by law. The rule was adopted by the state’s powerful clean air agency called California Air Resources Board (CARB or ARB).

The air resources board’s 16 members voted unanimously to adopt the measure. It is the first state to mandate a full shift to electric buses on public transit routes.

“Previously, there was the notion of going incrementally cleaner with transit — by using natural gas, for example,” said Adrian Martinez, a lawyer at Earthjustice, an environmental law firm. “But California has grown to realize that’s not good enough anymore. They’ve realized that they need to move to zero emissions.”

California is already known for being the nation’s leading environmental regulator. This new rule, the Innovative Clean Transit regulation, is just another show of strength for the state as leader. Perhaps this will bring battery-powered, heavy-duty vehicles a step closer to the mainstream for the rest of the states.

The transportation sector accounts for 40 percent of climate-changing gas emissions and 80-90 percent of smog-forming pollutants. Without transitioning to zero-emission technologies California would not meet their air quality and climate goals. The regulation is part of a statewide effort to reduce emissions from the transportation sector to ensure they reach their goals. CARB estimated that the rule would cut emissions of planet-warming greenhouse gases by 19 million metric tons from 2020 to 2050. That is the equivalent of taking four million cars off the road.

“A zero-emission public bus fleet means cleaner air for all of us,” Mary D. Nichols, the chairwoman of the agency, said in a statement. “It dramatically reduces tailpipe pollution from buses in low-income communities and provides multiple benefits especially for transit-dependent riders.”

There is one minor setback – some technological challenges remain. Cities like San Francisco are concerned about whether the electric buses can withstand heavy ridership and the city’s famously steep hills. They are requesting more proof of their reliability. As of yet, the rollout of electric buses in Los Angeles, Albuquerque and some other cities has been spoiled by mechanical problems and shorter-than-advertised driving ranges.

For the time being, out of the state’s fleet of 12,000 buses, only 150 of them are electric buses. It’s going to take quite a bit of effort to make the mark… but rules are rules! To ensure they make the cut, there are stepping-stones along the way. But 2023 a quarter of their new buses must be electric, and by 2026 that requirement will rise to half of all new buses.

BYD is a Chinese automaker that is building electric buses in Lancaster, California

BYD is a Chinese automaker that is building electric buses in Lancaster, California. Credit: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

To make things a little easier they are also offering incentives. The Hybrid and Zero-Emission Truck and Bus Voucher Incentive Project (HVIP) provides vouchers (with the State’s investment) to help California fleets purchase advanced technology trucks and buses.

As good as all this sounds, The United States is actually quite behind in the game. Places like Shenzhen, China, have already had all of their 16,000 public buses electric since last year.

As much as $1.5 billion in maintenance, fuel and other costs can be saved by 2050 if all the busses on California’s roads are switched to electric by 2040. So even though the upfront cost of having to buy all new vehicles and making charging infrastructures is high, it will be more than worth it in the long run.

Environmentalists believe this move towards zero emissions with public buses will work as an exemplary move to inspire action of the electrification of other types of large vehicles. “The hope is that as buses lead, trucks will be a couple of steps behind them in zero-emissions technology,” Mr. Martinez said. “Then forklifts, UPS trucks, even yard trucks.”