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Calif. Transit District Operates First All-Electric Bus Fleet

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority in Southern California has become the first public transit agency in the nation with a fully electric fleet, saving the agency millions of dollars in operating and other costs.

AVTA Electric Bus Charging.JPG
One of several dozen electric buses operated by the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) in Southern California.
Submitted Photo: Antelope Valley Transit Authority
A Southern California public transit agency is well on its way to operating the most progressive and most sustainable bus fleet in the nation, one made up of entirely electric vehicles. It’s also on the way to charging with 100 percent renewable power.

The Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) is the first all-electric transit agency in the nation, operating 57 full-size battery electric buses, along with 20 commuter coaches and 10 micro-transit vans.

The journey to a fully electric fleet began in 2016 with the decision by the agency’s board to begin the transition. This led to the development of charging infrastructure and a flurry of grant and rebate applications. In 2021, AVTA received its first 24 battery-electric buses. Since that time, the Antelope Valley agency — based in northern Los Angeles County — has clocked more than 7 million electric miles, saving more than 1.7 million gallons of diesel and more than $2.3 million in operating costs, according to AVTA documents.

“I‘ve worked alongside local Antelope Valley leaders to fund the initial pilot project that led to today’s milestone event,” said Kathryn Barger, a member of the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors, in a statement in mid-March. “The reality of today’s over the top gas prices is a stark reminder that we must continue investing in eco-friendly mass transit. It’s no longer become a choice — it’s more of a necessity.”

The AVTA, somewhat strategically located in the Mojave Desert, has started a massive solar power installation and storage project, allowing the buses to be charged entirely by the sun.

Aside from a project that has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by nearly 42 million pounds, the region has seen a measurable increase in cleaner air. In 2003 the Antelope Valley Air Quality Management District reported 64 days with ozone levels of 75 parts per billion. By 2021, only one day was recorded at this dangerous level.

It is also perhaps no accident that this project happened in California. The state has been a leader in the development, export and adoption of electric vehicles. The state, through a range of different incentive programs, has contributed more than $44.2 million to AVTA’s electrification efforts. Federal programs, meanwhile, have amounted to more than $52 million.

“If you look at how governments are funding across the country, California is leading. And there’s other states that are part of this climate alliance. New York also has some pretty aggressive goals,” said Bill Brandt, chief revenue officer for Zeus Electric Chassis Inc., which makes medium and heavy-duty electric trucks, a class of vehicle not unlike a city bus. Brandt spoke with Government Technology last month at the California Mobility Center in Sacramento during the unveiling of one of the company’s electric trucks to be used by the Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD).

A cornerstone of California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s climate agenda is transforming the state’s transportation to zero-emission vehicles, said Lauren Sanchez, senior climate adviser with the governor's office.

Many of the state’s programs to encourage the adoption of electric vehicles are targeted at the consumer market. However, agencies like the California Air Resources Board has a range of policies to help fleets, ports and other similar transportation areas electrify.

Sanchez, speaking at the annual Veloz summit last month, described a need for a “wartime mobilization in terms of clean technologies.

“And I do think that’s exactly what we need on ZEVs on this moment right now, to protect Californians from prices at the pump, protect us from dirty air, and ultimately make sure that our fleets are becoming as clean as quickly as possible,” she added.

Transit watchers can expect to see a steady increase in transitions to electric buses. The new federal infrastructure law is making $1.1 billion available this year for low- or no-emissions vehicles.
Skip Descant writes about smart cities, the Internet of Things, transportation and other areas. He spent more than 12 years reporting for daily newspapers in Mississippi, Arkansas, Louisiana and California. He lives in downtown Yreka, Calif.