Talking Transit: Alternatively Fueled Buses 2011 - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Talking Transit: Alternatively Fueled Buses 2011

Published twice a month, MPC’s Talking Transit provides updates about transit-related activities around the world.

Did You Know? L.A. County retired its last diesel-fueled bus this year.

Los Angeles may be the smoggiest city in the world, but it’s not the busses’ fault. In 2011, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) retired its last bus still fueled by diesel gasoline, becoming the first major city in the world to operate only alternative-fueled, clean energy busses. 

An electric bus in Los Angeles

Metro officials realized decades ago the transit system had to be a part of improving air quality in the L.A. region. In 1994, it became the first transportation agency in the United States to commit to alternative energy on a massive scale, with the purchase of 196 compressed natural gas (CNG) busses. Metro phased out its diesel bus fleet over time, and now has 2,221 buses that run on CNG. The rest of the fleet includes one electric bus and six gasoline-electric hybrids.

The federal government provided some financial help to purchase the CNG busses, which cost about $50,000 more than their $400,000 diesel-fueled cousins. Under the federal Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), signed into law in 2005, Metro was eligible for a 50-cent per gasoline gallon equivalent of CNG tax credit, saving $60 million. This was an important incentive to encourage and assist transit agencies to maintain environmentally friendly bus fleets. It expired in 2009. 

Environmental benefits

Metro’s busses log 1.5 million miles a year, so switching to environmentally friendly engines has a tremendous impact on cleaning the air. Metro’s CNG buses are 97 percent cleaner than the diesel buses they replaced. They reduce cancer-causing particulate matter by 98 percent, carbon monoxide by over 80 percent, and greenhouse gases by over 20 percent.

The CNG bus fleet is just one part of Metro’s green program, which also includes using solar panels at all Metro facilities to generate electricity. The solar panels reduced Metro's carbon footprint by 16,500 metric tons in 2010, the equivalent of removing 3,200 cars from Los Angeles area streets and freeways and saved the agency hundreds of thousands of dollars in electricity costs.

Last month the Metro board has set in motion a new pilot program that would go even further than CNG busses, with its approval to purchase up to 30 zero-emission or super low-emission buses. 

CTA’s clean fleet

The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) was awarded a $2.2 million federal grant last October for two electric busses, which can travel 30 to 40 miles on a single charge. While this is a step toward an environmentally friendly bus fleet, the CTA currently operates 1,553 diesel busses that average 3 to 5 miles per gallon.  Incorporating cleaner technologies into the bus fleet will lead to better air quality in Chicago and would save on gasoline costs for an already cash-strapped agency. New York, Boston, Washington, D.C., and Dallas are just some of the major cities that operate CNG buses. The CTA does operate 228 diesel-electric hybrid buses. 

NEWS

Local News

Governor Quinn Highlights Illinois’s Economic Development, Job Creation Efforts: Reaffirms Commitment to Doubling Exports in Address to President’s Export Council Subcommittee on Workforce Readiness – Gov. Quinn's Office "Governor Quinn today reaffirmed his commitment to doubling Illinois’ exports by 2015 during an address to the President’s Export Council Subcommittee on Workforce Readiness. The Governor also highlighted his ongoing work to invest in Illinois’ workforce and improve our infrastructure."

Tollway oases gas stations close temporarily – NBC Chicago "Double check your gas gage before driving onto the Illinois Tollway. 7-Eleven is taking over the 17 years left on Exxon Mobil's lease, said Illinois Tollway spokeswoman Joelle McGinnis. Several gas stations and convenience stores along the tollway closed to allow time for new software installation."

CTA honored for Dearborn track renewal project; wins two other awards – ChicagoNow.com"The track repair and replacement project in the Blue Line Dearborn subway tunnel received an honors award for "exceptional engineering achievement" in the transportation category from the American Council of Engineering Companies."

Tollway chief rolls through tollway issues – TribLocal "With Illinois Tollway 2011 summer road projects among the day’s headlines Monday (April 11), the agency’s Executive Director Kristi Lafleur had a rapt audience Monday at a Chicago Southland Chamber of Commerce event in Tinley Park. The first woman to head the 57-year-old agency, the dynamic Lafleur’s responsibilities cover the 286 miles of highways in 12 counties in Northern Illinois and the 1.4 million drivers who use the toll road every day. Of those, 80 percent are commuters and 11 percent commercial truckers." 

CTA to look at Western Avenue for bus rapid transit service – ChicagoNow.com "Here was some news at Friday CTA board meeting that was not as sexy as electric buses, but could potentially impact more people: The CTA got a $1.6 million federal grant to "examine the feasibility of Bus Rapid Transit service [along Western Avenue] as a means to provide faster service, improved connection points and enhanced transit services."

Chicago Transit Authority Tests Two Electric Buses – Gather.com "In an effort to reduce its fossil fuel consumption, the Chicago Transit Authority has purchased two lithium-ion battery powered buses with a $2.2 million Federal Transit Administration grant. The buses, which are already in use in San Antonio, Texas and Burbank, California will be tested for one year. the CTA wants to see how these new buses fare, and how long the batteries will last with a crowded bus. This is especially important due to the city's sometimes extreme weather conditions which are not common in San Antonio or Burbank."  

RTA pushes back on sales tax diversion bill – Chicago Tribune "The Regional Transportation Authority will kick off a campaign this week aimed at defeating legislation in the General Assembly that opponents say could potentially cost Chicago-area transit agencies hundreds of millions of dollars in sales tax revenue. The measure would allow companies to get around paying some sales taxes in Chicago and the six-county region by effectively migrating the tax to counties where the sales tax rate is lower or no local sales tax is imposed. A Chicago-based company could do this by setting up an office elsewhere and designating it as the point of sale, for example."

National News

Obama to highlight alternative-fuel vehicle partnership plan – Platts.com "U.S. President Barack Obama Friday will highlight a public-private partnership to help large US companies reduce diesel and gasoline use in their vehicle fleets by incorporating alternative-fuel vehicles and other measures, the White House said in an early morning statement."

Construction interests threatened by bills that cut transportation funding – Tampa Bay Business Journal "Florida road builders, transportation advocates and motorists better look both ways before crossing the street in Tallahassee. Two bills zipping through the Legislature could cut funding for construction projects or increase toll rates. A House proposal would divert $330 million to the general fund from the State Transportation Trust Fund, threatening future road building contracts and associated jobs."

Transports Hit Fresh 2011 High and Other Index Factoids – Wall Street Journal "While most major averages ended little changed, the Dow Jones Transportation Average managed to motor to its highest close of the year and its best finish since June 9, 2008, boosted by strong gains among rail and trucker stocks such as CSX, Norfolk Southern and J.B. Hunt Transportation.The transports are now a scant 3.51% below their record close of 5492.95 reached on June 5, 2008."

L.A. Public Transit Moves in the Wrong Direction – L.A. Times "It's not easy to argue that cutting service is actually good for customers. So big props to Art Leahy, chief executive of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, who told me with a straight face that the decision to eliminate two bus lines and scale back about a dozen more will result in better public transit for the people of Los Angeles."

Americans Give a Green Light for Spending On Mobility – PRNewswire "There are plenty of potholes ahead for America's transportation network, yet even as the price of gas rises, so has the public's understanding of the challenges of planning, prioritizing and funding the nation's infrastructure. In fact, more than three-quarters (77 percent) of Americans agree with President Barack Obama that the federal government should increase spending to repair our crumbling roads, bridges and transit systems."

Rush Hour Read: Governor’s Lawyer Misled Florida Supreme Court in High-Speed Rail Case –TheInfrastructurist.com "After Florida Governor Rick Scott refused $2.4 billion in federal funding for the Tampa-Orlando high-speed rail line, state lawmakers challenged his authority to make such a decision. The state Supreme Court ruled in Scott’s favor, but it now appears that ruling was based on inaccurate information supplied to the court by Scott’s lawyer. The error had a big impact on the court’s decision, writes the Palm Beach Post politics blog: In a two-page letter to Chief Justice Charles Canady, Scott’s general counsel, Charles Trippe, acknowledged that last month he misrepresented a central fact in arguments supporting the governor’s rejection of $2.4 billion in federal funds for the project linking Tampa with Orlando."

'Smarter Traveler' App Manages Traffic Flow – TheCityFix.com "IBM, along with the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) and California Center for Innovative Transportation at the University of California, Berkeley, announced a new effort to develop an intelligent transportation solution in managing traffic flow. The application, accessible through compatible smart phones, will provide predictive traffic patterns to drivers in order to help them avoid congestion. The tool will also be useful for transportation agencies and city planners in proactively designing, managing and optimizing transportation systems, the press release states."

Global News

Guangzhou Connects Bus Rapid Transit with Bike Share – PolicyInnovations.org "Guangzhou is one of the fastest growing cities in the world. The economic hub of China's southern coast, it has undergone three decades of rapid modernization, and until recently the city's streets were on a trajectory to get completely overrun by traffic congestion and pollution. But Guangzhou has started to change course. Last year the city made major strides to cut carbon emissions and reclaim space for people, opening new bus rapid transit and public bike-sharing systems."

Pure’ bus rapid transit in Vancouver might not solve Fourth Plain’s problems, consultant says –OregonLive.com "Traditional bus rapid transit, with dedicated lanes and fewer stops than traditional bus routes, wouldn't likely be a revitalizing force for the Fourth Plain Boulevard corridor, a consultant said Wednesday."

All Transportation is Public – San Jose Inside "Whether you prefer to take a train, plane, bus, bike or car, taxpayers subsidize a good portion of the ride. In other words, all transportation is a form of public transportation. The car could be the most subsidized of them all if you add up the cost of the public streets, highways, freeways, sidewalks, tax breaks, and yes perhaps a few oil wars."

Bombardier signs nine-year locomotive supply agreement with DB RegioWinnipeg Free Press "Bombardier Transportation has signed a nine-year agreement valued at US$867 million to supply 200 diesel locomotives to a passenger train operator in Germany. The first US$90 million delivery of 20 locomotives to DB Regio AG — a subsidiary of passenger train operator Deutsche Bahn AG — will take place in mid-2013. The TRAXX locomotives, which have four diesel engines, meet the European Union's new stringent emissions standards, the train manufacturer said in a news release. They also reduce fuel consumption, exhaust emissions and life-cycle costs."

Be clear about projects involving public monies  – TheStar.com "Malaysians heard of the massive 500km mass rapid transit system being planned for Iskandar Malaysia, a knee jerk reaction was expected. Many found it incredulous that such an expensive and expansive public transport system could be mooted by the Iskandar Regional Development Authority (Irda). The cost of the 150km of MRT being planned for Kuala Lumpur, which has a large number of people coping with a poor public transportation system and a clogged up road network is probably in excess of RM50bil and many people wonder how Irda is justifying one for Iskandar Malaysia. It has far fewer people in an area three times larger than Singapore."

Centre refuses to clear additional budget for BRTS – India Times "In a partial setback to the extension plans of the Bus Rapid Transit System in the city, the Union urban development ministry has not cleared the revised plan package 2 and 3 submitted by the Jaipur Development Authority but agreed to reimburse the amount once the project is completed."

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