L.A. Metro is the nation's second largest transit system, which is why it's recent decision to replace more than 2,200 natural gas buses with electric battery engines by 2030 is ground-breaking.
For decades, L.A. residents have been plagued by poor air quality. The city's rampant air pollution, born from dirty diesel and compressed natural gas (CNG), has affected all residents, but most especially those from low-income communities and communities of color.
Now, the city's move towards electric buses will go a long way to ensure all L.A. residents can breathe easier.
Currently, L.A. Metro has no electric buses. In the past, they have tried to incorporate electric engines into their fleet, but the technology was not up to scratch. In a 2015 test, the electric buses ran out of charge too quickly and had trouble climbing some of the steeper hills in the city.
The failure led many to doubt the efficacy of electric-powered public transport. In fact, until recently, Metro was planning on buying nearly 1,000 compressed natural gas buses, which are better than old diesel models but still emit greenhouse gases.
But environmental groups have been furiously lobbying for Metro to give electric engines another chance. And while there isn't currently an electric bus on the market that meets L.A. Metro's standards, John Drayton, Metro's head of vehicle technology, is hopeful the technology will become available soon.
"We think those vehicles will become available around 2020 or 2022," he said.
"I worry all the time," he added. "This is not a comfortable 'go and buy buses that have been driven for 12 years and are service proven.' We're going into new territory here."
And while the switch is risky and expensive (it is estimated to cost about $3 billion), the air quality benefits will be extreme. Electric buses have 30 percent fewer greenhouse gas emissions and 20 percent fewer smog-forming nitrogen oxide emissions than the cleanest natural gas bus, according to the Union of Concerned scientists.
But perhaps the most important part of Metro's decision is the message it sends to the industry. It illustrates to manufacturers that there will be huge buyers for electric buses and gives them a financial motive to pursue cleaner technology in the future.
It's not just L.A., either. Seattle, Atlanta, Boston, and St. Petersburg have all been experimenting with electric buses and making commitments to clean public transport.
With L.A. Metro leading the way towards 100 percent electric public transport, it won't be long until more cities begin to follow suit.