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Driving Change

Electrifying miles and milestones for the Antelope Valley Transit Authority's buses

The city transit authority is saving money and cutting emissions with an all-electric fleet from BYD.

This article is drawn from the Transport Weekly newsletter from GreenBiz, running Tuesdays. 

It's not often that a city transit authority gets to look cool and cutting-edge. But sometime next month, the Antelope Valley Transit Authority (AVTA) — a public bus operator that serves a region north of Los Angeles at the bottom tip of the Mojave Desert — will pass a pretty awesome tech and environmental milestone: its electric transit buses will have run for 1 million miles.

Those account for the miles driven by 30 electric transit buses that the AVTA bought from BYD, a Chinese bus maker that also built a large factory (that employs hundreds) in the Antelope Valley city of Lancaster. Those electric miles saved the agency $310,000 in fuel costs, reduced its carbon emissions, cut local air pollution and helped AVTA meet the California mandate that says all transit agencies in the state need to start buying zero-emissions buses starting in 2029. 

Later this year, AVTA will replace its entire fleet of 75 buses with all-electric ones. When those buses are up and running, AVTA will be one of the first transit authorities to adopt a 100 percent electric bus fleet in the U.S., and it'll be able to boast an annual carbon emissions reduction of 1.3 million pounds. Local residents won't all necessarily care about the emission drop but will like the quiet buses that don't pollute the air and give kids asthma. 

Even though battery electric buses are still more expensive to buy than diesel-powered ones, new options like lease financing and state incentives make electric bus purchases more attractive.
Transit agencies across the country are considering zero-emission bus options. Even though battery electric buses are still more expensive to buy than diesel-powered ones, new options such as lease financing and state incentives are making electric bus purchases a lot more attractive. Generate Capital provides lease financing for BYD buses. 

There no doubt will be growing pains with this technology transfer. For example, the city of Albuquerque, New Mexico, wasn't happy with the range of its BYD electric buses, ended up returning them and sued the company. Then, Albuquerque bought "clean diesel" buses from BYD competitor New Flyer. 

But guess what? Clean diesel is just diesel. This wouldn't fly in California after 2029. There also are no fuel savings. 

BYD also has some haters because, quite frankly, it's a Chinese company selling to Americans. When I interviewed BYD's former head of its Heavy Industries division, Macy Neshati, last year, he said when he first joined the company years ago he was surprised by a lot of the negative sentiment he faced, particularly in Washington, D.C.

A short time after our interview, Neshati left BYD and joined — wait for it — AVTA as its CEO and executive director. He's now helping head up the 100 percent EV bus transition at the agency. 

BYD's Lancaster factory workforce is made up of local Lancaster residents who assemble 12 types of electric buses in a half-a-million-square-foot factory. It's the kind of green industry — like solar panel installation, wind turbine technician, electric car assembly — that many regions need to bring in jobs and kickstart development. 

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