Five electric buses join Metro's fleet; more may be coming

'When you're behind one of these buses, you won't get asphyxiated like behind those other diesel belchers'

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority continued down its greener path Thursday when five electric buses were delivered to transportation officials downtown.

Chinese automaker BYD manufactured the buses at its Lancaster plant. Between the plant and the company's downtown headquarters, BYD employs at least 160 people. Company Chairman Chuan Fu Wang said he hoped to hire more people if purchase orders continued.

Those orders may soon be coming.

Metro's initial contract calls for the agency to buy 20 more buses if the first five meet expectations.

Long Beach Transit has ordered 10 buses, with the option for 50 more.

"A few short years ago, we stood together to open BYD headquarters here in L.A. Look how far we have come," Wang said.

BYD and county transportation officials hope the buses will demonstrate how it's possible to have an electric fleet in metropolitan areas.

"We are finding a solution to pollution in our city," said Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich, a Metro board member. "When you're behind one of these buses, you won't get asphyxiated like behind those other diesel belchers."

Metro put the contract for electric buses out to bid in late 2014. Richard Hunt, who manages Metro bus and rail acquisitions, said the choice was based on reliability and delivery time.

"It really came down to the battery life, and BYD was by far the best," Hunt said. "It would maintain a charge for twice as long as the other competitors."

The $20.7-million contract calls for 25 buses. Metro has approved just the first five so far.

The 40-foot buses will be tested during a full shift, with the air conditioning running. The electric engine will operate quietly and require less maintenance because it has fewer parts than conventional buses, BYD officials say. The battery can run for 150 miles on one charge, and can be recharged more than 160 times, the company says.

The battery can be partially recharged through the brake system, said Macy Neshati, a BYD vice president. When drivers slow the bus, the brake system will store some energy to run the vehicle.

Metro said the buses would be tested downtown. Drivers will be given two weeks to train.

The tests will take place over the next six months. Hunt will update the Metro board about the buses' performance in July.

jerome.campbell@latimes.com

Twitter: @JeromeRCampbell

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