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MTS approves contract to massively expand electric bus fleet

A new battery-powered bus sits in the MTS bus yard, Oct. 22, 2019.
Andrew Bowen
A battery-powered bus sits in the MTS bus yard on Oct. 22, 2019.

The Metropolitan Transit System's board of directors approved a contract Thursday that could grow its electric bus fleet more than 16-fold over the next five years.

MTS currently has only 13 electric buses, but is committed to having 100% zero-emission buses by 2040. The contract with manufacturer New Flyer covers the purchase of 125 battery-powered buses by 2027, with an option to purchase another 90 at the same price.

The contract also includes up to 258 buses that run on compressed natural gas (CNG). County Supervisor Nathan Fletcher, who chairs the MTS board, said those would be necessary to keep the system operational in the run-up to the 2040 deadline.


"We know in the interim we don't have enough charging capacity," Fletcher said. "There's not enough range, particularly on the larger buses. We still need some technology advances. But it's moving rapidly, and I am very, very confident that we will get there."

If MTS chooses to purchase all the vehicles it can under the five-year contract, the total cost would be roughly $569 million.

Some board members were still concerned about the commitment to purchase any CNG buses. La Mesa City Councilman Jack Shu said that, though the use of CNG may cause less toxic air pollution than conventional fuel, methane leaks during gas production and transport are a major contributor to climate change.

"It is good to have cleaner air, for these buses to run on CNG rather than diesel," Shu said. "But overall, for greenhouse gas emissions, it's not any better than burning coal."