City Sets Stage for Electric Buses

Photo by Christian Leonard / Burbank Leader | BurbankBus could have a fl eet of zero-emission buses by 2030, transportation offi cials told the City Council this week. The panel directed city staff members to partner with Glendale to store and charge the vehicles at the other municipality’s facility.

First published in the March 19 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

The city of Burbank took some early steps this week toward electrifying its BurbankBus fleet, with officials expressing interest in collaborating with Glendale to store the vehicles.

Most City Council members agreed to pursue that route, which would allow Burbank to comply with state rules requiring it to have zero-emission buses by 2040. Local transportation officials warned that the city will have to spend millions of dollars to purchase the new buses. But, they added, working with Glendale could reduce the costs of building a new site that could charge and maintain the vehicles.

David Kriske, assistant community development director for transportation and planning, told the council during its Tuesday meeting that a quarter of Burbank’s bus purchases must be zero emission starting in 2026. All the municipality’s new buses must be zero emission starting in 2029.

The city’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan, which is being updated, could also require the city to have a fully electric fleet by 2030, earlier than the state’s goal.

City staff members plan to purchase about five grant-funded gas buses this year, Kriske said, to replace its aging vehicles — with council members recommending that they also consider buying one electric bus. Burbank would then buy five electric buses between 2026 and 2029 and another six between 2029 and 2040.

BurbankBus currently has 17 fixed-route buses and nine others for its senior and disabled service. Its oldest bus was built in 2003, Kriske said, and has far outlived its 10- to 12-year lifespan.

A battery-powered fleet would cost the city about $30 million through 2040, Kriske added, compared to an estimated $17 million for the current natural gas buses. The figure doesn’t include an additional $30 million Burbank would likely have to pay to purchase and set up a new bus facility, a price tag that prompted Kriske’s department to recommend working with Glendale.

“The cost to make this transition is really the biggest issue that drives some of the policy options,” he said.

Glendale recently finished building a new bus facility near its Metrolink station that could be converted to serve electric buses, according to a city staff report submitted to the council. Burbank and Glendale would need to pursue grant funding, which officials cautioned will be a competitive process. But Kriske also indicated that a partnership could allow for routes between the two cities.

“There’s probably an untapped demand for local trips between Glendale and Burbank,” Kriske said. “That is hard to make right now and could be improved with some coordination.”

Working with Glendale would also require Burbank to follow its neighboring city’s policy of contracting out its senior and disabled service. Not all council members were in favor of keeping the buses. Mayor Jess Talamantes said he supported eliminating the service, except the program for senior and disabled residents, and argued that not enough people were using the system.

“We haven’t been very proactive when it comes to transportation in Burbank,” he added. “The BurbankBus, in my opinion, has not been very successful. We’ve been putting money down the dark hole.”

At its height more than 12 years ago, according to Kriske, the BurbankBus system had more than 300,000 rides a year. About five years before the pandemic, he added, it recorded roughly 225,000 to 250,000 rides a year. Ridership in 2021 was about 135,000, though he noted the figure’s recovery depends on the return of employees to in-person work.

Councilman Bob Frutos agreed that he’s been disappointed with what he feels is low ridership, saying he was originally in favor of discontinuing the service. But he added that he hopes a partnership with Glendale could revitalize the program.

“At over five bucks a gallon [for gas], … I really want to work with the five of us together, collaboratively, to see how we can turn this around,” Frutos said.