UCS Blog - Clean Vehicles (text only)

California Gets one Step Closer to Zero-Emission Transit Buses

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) recently released a draft standard for transitioning the state’s transit buses to zero-emission battery or fuel cell technologies by 2040. This is great news for bus riders, bus drivers, local air quality, and tackling global warming emissions from the transportation sector.

The proposal is the result of more than three years of stakeholder engagement and public comment. In the process, CARB has generated a wealth of knowledge, including a sophisticated total cost of ownership analysis, a charging cost calculator, and a thorough understanding of the on-the-ground challenges to deploying a new technology on a large scale.

As a key step in the official regulatory process, the standard will be discussed and public comment heard at the September 27-28 CARB Board Meeting. A final vote will occur at a subsequent Board Meeting (date to be determined).

What’s being proposed?

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For large transit agencies (100 or more buses), 25 percent of bus purchases must be battery or fuel cell electric vehicles beginning in 2023. This increases to 50 percent in 2026 and 100 percent in 2029.

For small agencies, the proposed purchase standard doesn’t begin until 2026 (at 25 percent) and increases to 100 percent in 2029. Thirty of the state’s 214 transit agencies fall into the definition of a “large” agency and represent 75 percent of buses in the state.

When CARB began hosting workshops in 2015, the purchase standard was scheduled to take effect in 2018. So, the current proposal represents a five-year delay from CARB’s original plan.

To encourage early adoption, the 2023 purchase standard will be waived if 1,000 zero-emission buses have been purchased across the state by the end of 2020. If an additional 150 zero-emission buses are purchased by the end of 2021, the purchase standard will remain waived until 2025.

With more than 130 zero-emission transit buses already operating in California, several hundred more on order, and significant amounts of incentive funding allocated for buses, transit agencies are already on track to exceed the early-adoption thresholds.

Finally, the standard also requires agencies to develop and submit plans to CARB for how they will reach a 100 percent zero-emission fleet by 2040. These plans will be critical to transit agencies’ successful incorporation of zero-emission vehicles in their fleets.

Which buses are included in the standard?

“Buses” in the context of this standard include standard 30 to 40-foot buses, shuttle buses, articulated buses, coach buses, and double-decker buses operated by transit agencies. There are 14,600 transit buses falling under this definition in California. For reference, the city of Shenzhen in China (population of 12 million people compared to California’s 40 million people) already has 16,000 electric buses on the road.

The chart below shows a breakdown of California’s transit bus population by type (not shown are double-decker buses, of which there were only six in the most recent survey).

The standard’s percentages apply to purchases, not the total makeup of a fleet

Given transit buses are typically on the road for 14 years, this corresponds to a fleet turnover rate of roughly 7 percent each year. So, a 25 percent purchase standard in 2023 works out to roughly 2 percent of total buses on the road across all agencies.

Looking at bus purchases statewide over the last five years, the 25 percent purchase standard in 2023 corresponds to about 150 zero-emission buses. The 50 percent purchase standard in 2026 corresponds to about 550 zero-emission buses.*

Individual transit agencies don’t necessarily turnover 7 percent of their fleet every year; instead making larger purchases every few years as shown in these two charts. Transit agencies’ different purchasing schedules points to the need for individual rollout plans in addition to purchase standards.

For a large agency like San Diego MTS, the 25 percent purchase standard corresponds to about 12 buses based on MTS’ purchase history. For a small agency like Sonoma County Transit, a 25 percent purchase standard corresponds to about 2 buses.

The chart below shows bus population by age in California (zero years old corresponds to 2016). More than half the buses on the road are from 2009 or earlier, which has significant implications for air quality as these vehicles were not subject to the latest engine standards. A combustion bus from before 2010 can have up to 30 times higher NOx tailpipe emissions compared to its newer combustion counterpart.

Three ways CARB can improve the proposed standard

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1. The standard should clearly state that all buses must be zero-emission by 2040. Since CARB began workshops in May 2015, the goal of this standard has been achieving a full transition to zero-emission buses by 2040, yet the actual language of the standard doesn’t explicitly say this. In fact, it could be several years past 2040 when the full transition is achieved based on how the standard is currently written.

The rule’s proposed standard of 100 percent zero-emission buses purchases beginning in 2029 would guarantee a transition by the end of 2040 only for buses on the road for 12 years. But many buses in California are on the road for 14 years or longer and there is up to a two-year lag between when a bus is purchased and when it hits the road, so a 2029 purchase standard would likely not achieve the goal of all zero-emission buses by 2040. Anything past 2040 ignores the state of technology and how quickly other jurisdictions are making this transition, namely in China.

2. The standard should apply to shuttle, articulated, coach, and double-decker buses sooner. Under the proposed rule, these buses are not subject to the purchase standard for eight years despite comprising one-third of transit buses.

Waiting until 2026 would miss an opportunity to reduce emissions from these buses. Several models of these buses are on the road today and becoming increasingly available across manufacturers. We recommend these buses fall under the purchase standard two years after at least two models of a given type of bus have completed testing by the Federal Transit Administration.

If you haven’t been following the electric bus industry, there are currently 14 companies that make over 30 different models of buses ranging from standard transit buses to shuttle buses, coach buses, double-decker buses, and long, articulated buses.

3. Small transit agencies should submit transition plans by 2021 to take advantage of current incentive funding. Under the draft plan transit agencies with less than 100 buses have until 2023 to submit plans for transitioning their fleets to zero-emission buses by 2040. If these transit agencies wait five years to come up with a plan, they could miss taking advantage of the significant amount of incentive funding currently available across the state for the bus itself as well as electric vehicle charging infrastructure. And due to the gaps between agencies’ purchases, a delay in planning could result in a several year delay in deploying zero-emission buses.

Why a standard is needed

In the three years CARB’s standard has been under development, there has been a significant increase in the number of transit agencies deploying zero-emission buses. Twelve agencies (see below) have made voluntarily commitments to 100 percent zero-emission fleets. These agencies represent both small and large fleets and operate 37 percent of the state’s total buses.

Antelope Valley Transportation Agency is working to transition its 85 bus fleet by the end of this year. LA Metro, the second largest bus fleet in the country, has committed to transitioning its fleet by 2030, a full 10 years ahead of what the state standard will achieve.

With leadership shown by these agencies, it’s important to acknowledge that a state-wide standard is critical to realizing the benefits of zero-emission buses across the state. AC Transit, in its plan to rollout 144 electric buses by 2032, directly references CARB’s proposed standard as a motivating factor in creating the agency’s plan.

If you look at the actual language of the proposed standard, you’ll notice it is a revision to an existing standard, first adopted 18 years ago. California’s early demonstration of zero-emission bus technology, such as fuel cell buses operated at Sunline Transit and AC Transit, can be traced to the original standard.

The proposed standard is a reasonable next step. The standard is achievable and without it, zero-emission buses would see a slow deployment. The technology is here, the public health and climate benefits are significant. The thoughtful conversations and detailed analyses have been had. The standard should be approved and California should continue to show we are a state that embraces solutions to air pollution and global warming.

* The purchase estimate in 2023 is based only on standard bus purchases made by large transit agencies. The purchase estimate in 2026 includes purchases made by small agencies and inclusion of shuttle, articulated, coach, and double-decker buses.

CARB’s draft standard also awards credits to agencies with zero-emission buses already on the road that can be used to offset future purchase requirements. Current credits correspond to roughly 150 buses.

Check out our Got Science? podcast for more on transit buses, the people’s electric vehicle:

Photo: Jimmy O'Dea

Electric Vehicle Sales Are Taking Off in 2018

New models will help continue the growth in EV sales, like the longer-range battery electric Jaguar I-PACE SUV that is scheduled to arrive for sale later this year.

The sales numbers are in for the first half of 2018 and more new car buyers than ever are choosing an electric vehicle (EV). Through June, over 123,000 new EVs were registered in the US, compared to 91,000 in the first half of 2017, an impressive increase of 35 percent. And it’s more than double the sales from just 3 years ago.

What’s driving increasing EV sales?

Much of the increase in sales was due to new models becoming available. First, let’s look at battery electric vehicles (BEVs, all-electric vehicles without a gasoline engine): Tesla led the way with the more affordable Model 3, notching over 22,000 registrations for the first half of the year. That’s more than the battery electric vehicle sales for all traditional automakers, combined.

Unlike the battery electric sales, there is not one dominant manufacturer of PHEVs. However, like BEVs, the addition of new models (like the Honda Clarity and Chrysler Pacifica) have helped to boost sales. The introduction of Tesla’s Model 3 has increased battery electric vehicle sales to new highs in the 2nd quarter of 2018. At the same time, sales from traditional automakers have fallen, giving Tesla the majority of the BEV market in 2018.

New models also helped grow the numbers of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs). Honda played a role in boosting overall sales by finally selling an EV in some quantity.

From 2010 through 2017, Honda had sold fewer than 4,500 EVs in the US but moved over 6,500 Honda Clarity plug-in hybrid EVs in just the first 6 months of 2018. It’s a bit of encouraging news from an automaker that has previously been a laggard in selling EVs, though they still have much room before claiming a leadership position in electric vehicles.

California still leads the way

While EV sales have increased across the US, California is still far ahead on EV sales. About half of all EVs are sold in California, a fraction that has stayed constant for the last 3 years. In total, over 6 percent of all new cars sold in the state in 2018 were EVs (plug-in or fuel cell powered). This is a significant and growing fraction of the new car market and would be even larger if all car brands had EVs for sale. About 8 percent of cars were EVs when looking only at brands that have an EV for sale.

EV sales were also boosted by Honda finally starting to sell a plug-in vehicle in volume. However, they are still far behind leaders like General Motors for cumulative EV sales in the US. Click to enlarge.

Some brands excelled at selling EVs in CA: over 16 percent of BMW-badged vehicles were plug-ins and over 10 percent of Chevrolets were EVs. On the other hand, Toyota and Honda, who sell the largest number of cars in California, had less than 4 percent EV sales (even less if you include their luxury brands Lexus and Acura, neither offering an EV).

Sales likely to accelerate with more models on the way

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The next 6 months will bring important new competitors in the EV market, with several new long-range battery electrics slated to arrive. The new EVs include both luxury cars and more affordable models. Hyundai will launch their Kona battery electric with over 250-mile range later this year. Jaguar, Porsche, and Audi will all debut luxury EVs to compete with the higher end Tesla models.  The number of plug-in hybrid models is also expected to grow, including the first EV offering from Subaru. If the past is any guide, adding more EV options (both more brands and types of vehicle) will help grow the sales share of EVs, even if not all are big sellers

Speed bumps ahead?

Some manufacturers are moving ahead with new EV models, while others are seeming to squander early leads in moving to electric vehicles.  For example, Ford’s EV sales are down significantly this year, with the end of the C-MAX plug-in hybrid and no new electric products announced for this year or next. Nissan has also seemed to stumble a bit. They delivered the first mass-market all-electric car from a traditional automaker with the LEAF in 2010. However, sales of the LEAF have slowed, and Nissan hasn’t expanded its electric line up beyond that one model. Lastly, Tesla is of course fully committed to EVs, but is embroiled in controversy regarding its CEO Elon Musk and

Beyond individual automaker efforts, there is another potential source hinderance to the growth of EVs. The disconnect between state policies that are pushing EVs forward and federal efforts to rollback clean car standards and remove vital authority for California and the 9 other states that have adopted the Zero Emission Vehicle regulations. It’s unlikely that lack of leadership at the federal level will stop EVs. Automakers realize that the transition to EVs is inevitable, and policies around the globe will continue to push in that direction. However, irresponsible decisions by the current Administration could delay this transition here, harming both US drivers and the environment. The good news is that so far we are seeing continued development of EVs and growth in sales.

Data Source: IHS Markit Data Source: IHS Markit

Transportation Pollution is on the Rise in Massachusetts  

Photo: Billy Hathorn/Flickr

Pollution from cars and trucks are on the rise in Massachusetts, undermining the Commonwealth’s ability to achieve the mandates of the Global Warming Solutions Act, according to preliminary numbers released by the Department of Environmental Protection on Thursday.

DEP’s updated emissions inventory showed a significant jump in emissions from transportation, from 29.7 MMT in 2015 to 31.7 MMT in 2016, an increase of over 6 percent. Transportation pollution is higher today than it has been at any point since 2008. It is the only sector where emissions are higher today than they were in 1990. Even as the state makes significant progress in other areas, the challenge of transportation pollution threatens to undermine our ability to achieve our legally mandated climate limits.

The growth in transportation pollution is occurring even though our cars and trucks are getting cleaner and more efficient every year, thanks to national vehicle emission standards in place since 2009.

Why are transportation emissions increasing?

Transportation emissions are growing because the economy of Massachusetts and the Boston metro area is booming: there are over 400,000 more jobs in Massachusetts today than 10 years ago. That’s a good thing for a state, but it is also putting unprecedented pressure on our transportation system. More jobs mean more commuters, travelling more miles, consuming more gasoline, and producing more pollution.

In addition to the spike in emissions, Boston commuters are spending more time than ever before stuck in traffic. The average Boston driver spent 60 hours (more than two days!) in traffic in 2017, making Boston the seventh-most congested in the city in the country.

One thing that is not growing right now in Massachusetts: use of public transportation. MBTA Bus and light rail public transportation are down 6.5 percent and 3.5 percent respectively over the past three years. Insufficient funding, unreliable service and increasing competition from ridesharing services such as Uber and Lyft are all playing a role reducing the use of public transit. Housing near public transportation centers is also becoming prohibitively expensive for many Massachusetts residents.

Another important factor: with gas prices relatively low and greater disposal income, consumers are buying bigger cars. Sales of SUVs and light trucks have grown to over 65 percent of the national U.S. vehicle market in 2017 – though the largest growth has been in smaller car-like SUVs. While national emission standards are improving the efficiency of all vehicles, including SUVs and pickup trucks, this trend towards larger vehicles is nevertheless undermining some of our expected gains in fuel efficiency.

Unfortunately, the Trump administration is now proposing to freeze federal vehicle standards – and to strip Massachusetts, California and other states of our right to set aggressive emission standards. If this federal attack is successful, it would be a critical blow to Massachusetts’ climate strategy. The vast majority of the projected emission reductions from transportation in the state’s recent Clean Energy and Climate Plan come from these standards.

What can we do?

The good news is that we have the tools to achieve dramatic reductions in transportation emissions regardless of what happens in Washington, DC.

Moreover, Massachusetts now has numerous studies and Commissions working on the problem of transportation emissions. In addition to the Future of Transportation Commission, the Comprehensive Energy Plan and the Clean Energy and Climate Plan, the state also announced on Thursday a new look at potential deep decarbonization studies for 2050, which will look at how we achieve dramatic reductions in emissions throughout our economy.

Here are three things the Commonwealth can do to get a handle on pollution from transportation:

Create a market-based limit on transportation emissions. One option would be to work with Northeast states to create a cap and invest program covering transportation fuels. The “cap” sets an overall limit on tailpipe pollution. This limit is enforced through a requirement that polluters purchase allowances based on the carbon associated with burning that fuel. The state only allows allowances up to the cap. As the cap gradually lowers, emissions reductions are guaranteed, while market forces raise the cost of allowances, generating proceeds. The state can then invest those proceeds in clean transportation solutions, like electric cars, trucks, and buses, better public transportation, and walking and biking options.

We’ve seen a similar program work before. In 2004, Massachusetts joined with the other states of the Northeast to create the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (also known as “RGGI”) for the electric sector. Today, RGGI stands as a triumph of smart climate policy. Thanks to RGGI, in addition to other complimentary policies, the Northeast is on track to cut pollution from power plants by 65% by 2030. Funding from RGGI is used to support some of Massachusetts’ most innovative and important climate policies, including the MassSave program and the Green Communities Act. Overall, independent analysis shows that RGGI has created 44,000 jobs in the region while saving consumers over $773 million in reduced energy costs.

Promote responsible growth of ride hailing services. Ride hailing services such as Uber and Lyft are already changing the way people are getting around in our cities, and with autonomous vehicles on the horizon, these services will continue to shape our mobility choices in the years to come. However, these services can only operate effectively if they are working hand in hand with a strong public transportation system. Massachusetts should consider fees, regulations and incentives for these companies. Proceeds could be used to support public transit while requirements and incentives could encourage electrification of ride hailing fleets, encourage pooling to provide more rides with less congestion

Increase incentives for vehicle electrification. Electric vehicles are a critical technology for the future of the Commonwealth, but right now they are too expensive for many low or moderate-income residents. As the state considers future program models, there should be increased funds available for rebates targeted toward low and moderate-income residents so that these vehicles are truly affordable for everyone.  In addition, the state should consider additional rebates to encourage people to trade in old and dirty pickup trucks and SUVs for cleaner and more efficient models.

One thing that we cannot do is continue to ignore the challenges facing transportation and climate in our Commonwealth. Massachusetts climate law requires reductions from all sources of pollution in the state, and we will not meet the requirements of that law without addressing transportation. Beyond emissions, we need to address the interconnected challenges of increasing congestion, the increasing cost of housing, and the declining state of our public transportation services or these problems will grow more difficult and more frustrating for Massachusetts residents.

Photo: Billy Hathorn/Flickr