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Santa Monica Replacing Buses For Expo Line

By Hector Gonzalez
Staff Writer

April 8, 2015 -- Santa Monica’s Big Blue Buses are too big to make the turns on one of the new routes to an Expo Light Rail station, so transit officials are asking the City to finalize the purchase of four shorter buses as part of a $19 million investment to replace some of BBB’s aging fleet.

As part of integrating Big Blue Bus line service with the Expo Phase II project, transit officials want to replace four 40-foot-long buses that will service new Route 43 -- from San Vicente Boulevard in Los Angeles to the light rail line’s Bergamot Station in Santa Monica -- with four 30-foot buses.

“As a result of this new route, the current fleet of buses cannot physically make the turns at two locations because of the length of the current buses,” Transit Services Director Edward King said in a report for the City Council’s meeting April 14.

“BBB has explored various other options such as rerouting existing vehicles around these challenging turns, but was unable to find a suitable path for the bus.”

As a result, King is requesting Council members authorize City Manager Elaine Polachek to purchase the shorter buses -- fueled by compressed natural gas (CNG) -- from California-based manufacturer Gillig LLC for not more than $2.6 million.

“The Gillig 30-foot bus provides the appropriate turning radius as compared to the current buses in the fleet,” King said, adding that the new buses would be delivered to the City between December this year and January 2016.

The new 30-foot buses will have about 30 seats and a capacity for 45 to 46 riders. The buses come with bicycle racks.

“Based upon ridership forecasts for the new route, a 30-foot bus will accommodate anticipated loads,” said King.

Transit officials also are seeking Council authorization for the purchase of 25 additional CNG buses from Gillig for an amount not to exceed $16.7 million, bringing the total expenditure authorization to more than $19.4 million, including extended warranties and other associated costs.

“The new buses would lower the cost of maintenance per mile, increase the efficiency of the transit system, while providing our customers with more reliable service and increased comfort and reduce exhaust emissions through improved emission technology,” said King.

All of the buses slated to be replaced have reached or exceeded their recommended lifespan of either 12 years or 500,000 miles and need to be replaced, King said.

“BBB currently operates 86 Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) buses purchased between 2002 and 2006 of which 24 buses have reached the end of their useful life per Federal Transit Administration (FTA) guidelines,” said King. “In addition, 52 New Flyer LNG vehicles will have completed their useful life of 12 years in 2016.”

In January 2014, the City agreed to buy up to 99 new CNG buses from Gillig LLC to replace much of its quickly out-dating fleet. To maximize its buying power, the city entered into a purchasing agreement with 21 other cities to purchase buses from Gillig.

“BBB has a Capital Improvement Program to replace aging buses as they approach the end of their lifecycle,” including $9.9 million in federal funding to help with the replacement costs, King said..

Gillig was chosen from among several potential supplies after BBB officials, including drivers, tested out the buses, he said.

“All employees who participated in this cross functional process provided feedback using a technical rating sheet to score their pros/cons of the vehicle,” said King. “It was determined that the Gillig LLC bus best fit the needs of the BBB.”   

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