Burbank Plans to Seek County Funds for Electric Buses

First published in the May 21 print issue of the Burbank Leader.

Members of the Burbank City Council indicated this week that they will seek to allocate $4.4 million they expect to receive from Los Angeles County to pay for new electric and gas-powered buses.

Officials with the Burbank Community Development Department told the council during a meeting on Tuesday that the city will receive about $2.2 million from Measure M funds in fiscal year 2025-26.

Burbank currently has another $2.2 million from the measure, which is a half-cent sales tax L.A. County voters passed in 2016 to fund transportation projects, that it has not yet spent.

The council agreed with a recommendation by city staff members that Burbank propose to use the money to purchase six compressed natural gas buses between now and 2026, and five electric buses after 2026.

The vehicles would replace those in the city’s 17-bus fleet that are between 13 and 19 years old — beyond their lifespans, according to department officials.

The L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority distributes funds from Measure M to a number of county regions, including the Arroyo Verdugo Communities Joint Powers Authority, which includes Burbank.

The AVCJPA, also comprised of representatives from Glendale, La Cañada Flintridge, Pasadena, South Pasadena and the county, will meet next month to discuss how it should use the money.

The AVCJPA usually distributes funds according to its member cities’ populations, said David Kriske, Burbank’s assistant community development director, and it will likely follow the same policy this year.

Councilwoman Sharon Springer, who represents Burbank on the AVCJPA Board, will request that the city’s allocation go toward the bus purchases.

In March, the City Council approved a plan to begin converting its local bus fleet to zero-emission vehicles in 2026, in accordance with state requirements. The council also decided then to pursue a collaboration with Glendale to store and charge electric buses, a move that would substantially reduce Burbank’s costs for electrification.

City staff members estimated that each electric bus will cost about $900,000, and said they could complement the Measure M allocation with money from developer-paid fees and other transportation funding.

Springer said the council had heard some concerns, however, that the city’s bus routes would see less use after the coronavirus pandemic, with more people working from home permanently.

Mayor Jess Talamantes and Councilman Bob Frutos previously expressed interest in eliminating the bulk of the bus service, citing relatively low ridership counts.

“What if the bottom just falls out of the need for bus transit?” Springer asked Tuesday. But Kriske assured the council that, because the new $2.2 million disbursement won’t be available until 2025, Burbank could request the money go toward a different project if interest in bus transit falls.

“There is opportunity, as things change, to reassess the policy,” he added. “And quite frankly, we’d want to reassess our overall electrification policy if transit situations were different or the electrification mandate is harder than we thought or things with Glendale don’t work out.”