California is Kicking Y’alls’ Ass on Electrification of Buses

Street Justice Newsletter: Vol 1, Edition 6 (1/14/2019)

Welcome to the Street Justice Newsletter

This is a daily newsletter produced by Gordon Chaffin, a journalist in Washington, DC. I cover transportation and urban planning in DC, MD, and VA to explain what is happening in the street and why. You can subscribe for free or pay a small fee to help me make this my full time job.


Remember to read through to the end today. I put together quick updates last week that I didn’t mention in previous reports. I plan on doing a recap like this every Monday. I’m going to work really hard so that you, the reader, don’t miss anything in DC transportation news.

Transportation Camp 2019 Was Fun

I had a late night Friday and getting up early Saturday morning was the last thing I wanted to do. I would not have gone to this if was more than a few blocks from my apartment, but it was and I’m all in with this newsletter trying to make it a sustainable job, so there I went!

On Saturday, I attended TranspoCamp 2019: “TransportationCamp DC brings together … 500 thinkers and doers in the fields of transportation and technology. It’s not your traditional conference. In addition to talks and presentations from big names in the field, the heart of TransportationCamp is sessions and activities led by attendees themselves.” About 50 percent of the attendees were from outside the DC region.

The Camp happens the day before TRBAM starts — the Annual Meeting of the Transportation Research Board. Where TranspoCamp includes big-picture thinking, light research presentations, and discussion-heavy sessions, TRBAM is a more-technical and academic conference focused on field practitioners.

TRBAM is more formal and there’s more of a trade show vibe. I do not buy train seats or the carpet that goes on them. So, less of a reason for me to attend. It’s also $750-$1K, compared to TranspoCamp’s $50. So, LOL, maybe I’ll go next year if this newsletter generates enough revenue where I can buy groceries and attend cool, nerdy things. I may also request a press pass next time…

California is Kicking Y’alls’ Ass on Electrification of Buses

I’ve written before about electrification of bus transit fleets. There are about 1,100 transit agencies in the United States operating buses, 200 in California alone, and most of those agencies are bus-only systems. The buses are fueled either by diesel, diesel hybrid (mild hybrid tech like the Prius), compressed natural gas (CNG), or —increasingly—battery-electric (BEB) or plug-in hybrid.

I attended a presentation [PDF Slides Here] by the Union of Concerned Scientists, who recently succeeded in lobbying California to mandate all bus purchases after 2029 to be battery-electric. The state legislation allows transit agencies to replace older buses in their normal life cycle. Given that turnover, California pledges to run only electric buses by 2040. The Los Angeles Metro system, by far the largest fleet operator of transit buses in California, has pledged to run only electric buses by 2030.

Jimmy O’Dea from UCS described their life-cycle cost-analysis of battery-electric buses. It showed that, even accounting for the increased monetary cost of of electric buses, the electric buses are cheaper in the long-run. O’Dea says it only takes one year of BEB operation to recoup the additional emissions costs that come from manufacturing a big battery than a diesel or CNG bus. I’m guessing they run these buses with 75-125 kW batteries.

As many frequently question in EV discussions, BEBs produce fewer tailpipe emissions after accounting for emissions of electricity to charge. California’s average mix of electricity is both expensive compared to other states and only-middle of the pack on renewables. So, other states that move to EV buses — including DC’s cheaper power prices — will benefit more from the transition to BEBs. Even in the worst grid mix of the United States (think CO, with coal dominance), BEBs get better MPG than diesel buses.

Currently, DC’s WMATA operates 14 BEBs within the Circulator routes. There’s a charging station that I know of in Anacostia along South Capitol.

O’Dea said state policy is key to getting state level policymakers to buy-in. In California, they already have a Carbon Cap and Trade system which generates revenue for clean-fuel tax credits and other capital financing programs that bridge the additional CapEx burden of BEB and EV purchases.

For nerds like me who have lots of EV interest and knowledge, here’s a fun tidbit. In the beginning of BEB introduction, Manufacturers and operators focused on fast-charging speeds (50kW+) so that low ranges (75-100 mi) could be mitigated by mid-shift 15-minute charging sessions. However, O’Dea says newer models have long enough ranges to go a whole shift and operators are moving to a fleet management model where they set up buses for longer, slower charging sessions (6-8 kW at 220/240V).

Also, in case you’re wondering whether EVs and BEBs are pushing manufacturing employment overseas, you should know that these transit agencies and bus manufacturers have “Buy American” requirements. 75 percent of bus parts have to be made in America, which is a bar that increases over time. That’s according to O’Dea.

In Other News…

DC Area Gets 7-12 Inches of Snow Over the Weekend

We got our first snow of 2019 in DC and it’s a legit business-halter up to Michigan standards. 6-12 inches fell across the region. I got 9.5. Here are a few observations from the snow day:

  • Snowfall provides a canvas onto which drivers prove how much road space is not necessary for safe car travel. Nearly all intersections could have bigger curbs and pedestrian islands (“neckdowns”). People drive over the snow, but only use the space they need, so all the space that still has snow is not necessary for the cars and should be reclaimed for other street users. Hence, the term, “sneckdowns.” Aaron Landry, ANC2B Commissioner, highlighted a bunch of examples from yesterday in DC.

  • Given several days to a week of notice for a snowstorm, DC government will quickly clear cycling and pedestrian pathways. That’s a good sign: cycling and pedestrian paths are utilitarian transportation facilities which need clearing as fast as roads. People bike commute and walk to work in DC. A lot. Even in the winter.

  • The National Park Service, which is closed as part of the partial Federal Government shutdown, has returned to snow clearing after three weeks without maintenance. NPS workers aren’t being paid for their work.

  • DC residents spend a lot of time criticizing each other for not clearing the sidewalk in front of their house (that’s DC law; Arlington too), but spent little time critiquing fellow drivers’ use of bike lanes and pedestrian facilities for (temporary) parking. It’s frustrating to see how context-dependent people are: it takes a snow storm for people to consider the safety and needs of people who walk instead of drive.

  • Again, given the early notice, DDOT pre-treated roads in Edgewood and Brookland. I saw a few posts from others in DC region that snowfall didn’t stick on streets for a long time compared to other surfaces. Which means they salted well. Good job!

News from Last Week…

Capital Bikeshare Station Opens up at corner of 11th & C Streets SE

“ANC 6B supported and, yesterday, DDOT installed a Bikeshare station at 11th/C SE over the objections of neighbors. Why? Let's go to the Maps! Before, there's a giant void in the heatmap of installed station at 11th/C. Afterward? Not so much." said ANC 6B06 (Capitol Hill SE) Commissioner Corey Holman. Holman adds, “Next void to fill: Congressional Cemetery.”

  • Not A Single ANC7E (Benning Ridge/Capitol View) Resident Listed Parking as Their Highest Concern

  • DDOT Will Present About 4th/Cedar/Blair Intersection at ANC 4B (Takoma/Lamond Riggs) Meeting

  • Residents Opposed a Bikeshare Station at Grant Circle, But There May Be Majority Support from ANC 4C (Petworth) to Put Station on Illinois Ave NW

  • ANC 1B Supported a Permit to Update the Curb Cut at 1844 3rd St NW

  • ANC 6C (H Street NE/Capitol Hill NE) Supported Mayor Bowser’s Right Turn on Red Restriction


This Week’s Reporting Plan (Bold = I’ll Be Attending)