A man retrieves his bike from the front of an electric bus at the First Street Long Beach Transit hub in Downtown Thursday, Feb. 17, 2022. Photo by Brandon Richardson.

Before the end of 2022, Long Beach Transit will more than quadruple its electric bus fleet, building on the agency’s long-standing environmental efforts.

The agency’s electric bus offerings began in earnest in November 2016, when the first e-buses hit the streets of Long Beach—an order of 10 at about $1 million a piece through BYD in Los Angeles, a subsidiary of a Chinese manufacturer of the same name. The contract included an option to buy 14 more e-buses, which the transit agency opted to exercise in 2019.

“We’ve been a national leader when it comes to implementing the battery electric bus technology,” Long Beach Transit Vice President of Communications Michael Gold said. “We were a pioneer.”

The first of those additional e-buses are expected to be delivered soon, Gold said. With a few buses delivered each week, all 14 should be in Long Beach within the next month or two.

Last year, the agency’s board of directors authorized the purchase of 20 more electric buses from Canadian manufacturer New Flyer, which—save any supply chain issues—are slated to be delivered beginning this summer, Gold said.

“These are shorter buses, which means they can navigate through some of the neighborhoods a little bit easier,” Gold said, noting the buses are 35 feet rather than the standard 40 feet.

“So places like Alamitos Bay where we couldn’t go before, we can go there,” he said.

The new buses also cost about $1 million each, Gold said. The agency pays for all new vehicles through grant funding from the state and federal governments, he added.

Once Long Beach’s electric bus fleet grows to the full 44, they will make up 20% of the agency’s active fleet, according to Gold. Long Beach Transit’s active fleet includes 122 low-emission compressed natural gas vehicles, 10 electric, 76 electric-gas hybrids and 13 diesel buses.

While the diesel buses are included in the active fleet, they are not in the operational rotation, Gold noted. The agency has an additional 13 diesel and 12 CNG buses held as contingency.

As additional electric buses come online, the hybrids will be phased out of operation first, Gold said.

When first introduced, the electric buses only ran Long Beach Transit’s Passport service in the Downtown area, which is a short route. But since the initial period, during which the agency examined range and reliability, the electric buses have been phased into a regular rotation, serving all areas of the city.

The Long Beach agency was one of the first nationwide to deploy electric buses on a large scale, according to Gold. He said that many agencies across the country started small, purchasing one or two electric buses to start.

“Long Beach has air quality challenges,” Gold said. “It’s something that impacts our community, and we’ve made the commitment that we don’t want to be a contributor.”

The agency’s first electric buses arrived in the city two years before the state announced new regulations requiring public transit agencies to transition to 100% zero-emission bus fleets by 2040. The order was unanimously approved in December 2018 by the California Air Resources Board as a means to curtail emissions.

Long Beach’s ambition early on has given it the confidence to aggressively pursue its goal of having a fully zero-emission fleet no later than 2035, Gold said. While electric has been the focus of purchases thus far, Gold said hydrogen-fuel cell buses could also come to Long Beach in the future.

“Our North Long Beach location is the primary home for our [CNG] buses and we have the infrastructure to fuel those … in the bus yard,” Gold said. “Converting that to hydrogen, it’s not heavy lifting because we already have the storage tanks and so forth.”