September 2012

Top 100 Bus Fleets: Meeting Demand, Challenges

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

Seventy percent of transit agencies around the nation are still having a difficult time balancing rising demand for service with funding issues, however, this year’s 65,337 total fleet vehicles holds steady, with only a 135 vehicle shrinkage, compared to 2011, according to respondents to METRO’s Top 100 Transit Bus Fleets survey.

New York City Transit (NYCT) still holds the top spot with a total 4,344 vehicles. New Jersey Transit (2,395), the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (2,384), Seattle’s King County Metro (1,924) and the Toronto Transit Commission (1,865) round out the top five.

Yaphank, N.Y.-based Suffolk County Transit (No. 67) and New Orleans-based Regional Transit Authority (No. 97) crack the Top 100 in 2012, while the agency formerly known as MTA Long Island Bus makes its first appearance as the Garden City, N.Y.-based Nassau Inter-County Express (No. 50).

Making lemonade
Despite the fact that respondents continue to have difficulties trying to balance rising demand with funding issues, many report they are rising to the challenge by finding ways to either be more efficient or cost conscious.

For example, No. 23, Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART), reports it is undertaking a fuel transition program, where it will convert its current combination of diesel and liquefied natural gas (LNG) to compressed natural gas (CNG) over the next three years.

“As a result in favorable natural gas purchases, which have secured our fuel pricing through calendar year 2020, this conversion will reduce our bus motor fuel expenses by approximately 60% annually over the next eight years,” say DART officials.

In addition to purchasing more affordable used buses to help replace an aging fleet, Indianapolis’ IndyGo (No. 89) reports that when opportunities arise, it is rehabilitating or replacing facility infrastructure with “green” technology or sustainable operating practices.

Meanwhile, Phoenix-based Valley Metro (No. 16) reports that it is programming more federal 5307 funds into preventive maintenance to minimize the impacts of lacking local revenues, examining combining multi-agency operations under one operating contract for potential economy of scale and better pricing, and moving away from traditional paratransit.

Besides these innovative approaches, however, many agencies report that they are still forced to cut services or raise fares.

The numbers
A closer look at the numbers reveals 46,562 buses are 35 feet or longer; 56%, or 36,846, of the total vehicles are low-floor applications; and 8% are demand-response. This year’s Top 10 makes up 34% of the Top 100 Bus Fleet totals, growing from 2011 by 1,540 total vehicles. Overall, this year’s respondents report that they intend to order 5,879 vehicles in the next year.

Meanwhile, alternatively-propelled vehicles, at 15,906 total, make up 24% of the fleet totals reported for 2012, with natural gas — both CNG and LNG — leading the way, followed by various types of hybrid-electric vehicles. Respondents to this year’s survey report they are looking to grow their alt-fuel fleets with either natural gas or hybrid-electrics, while many agencies already ahead of the curve are looking into hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles.

With all the budget and staff cuts going on around the nation, METRO would especially like to thank all of the transit agencies for participating this year. If you know a fleet that belongs on this list or have suggestions on how to improve our future lists, please let us know. 

For the full chart, click here.


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  • Michelle Eyre[ October 17th, 2012 @ 2:59pm ]

    Can you clarify what is considered as a "trolley" in this list? I ask because the list shows 15 trolleys for Valley Metro, 3 for LADOT and 0 for SF MUNI. For Valley Metro, I don't know if this figure is the peak number of train sets for the light rail system (which is around 14 or 15) or if these are the vehicles being delivered for Tempe's modern streetcar project. 3 trolleys for LADOT? Where does LADOT run trolleys?? And 0 trolleys for Muni?? What runs on Market Street? What bout the J, K, L, N, etc.? SEPTA has trolleys listed, why not Muni. I think these numbers are wrong.

  • Judy[ November 29th, 2012 @ 12:09pm ]

    I think the article refers to bus trolley, not light rail trolley.

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