The University of California, Davis is one of the greenest schools in the nation. In addition to being named the No. 1 Coolest School by the Sierra Club
in 2012, former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger called UC Davis
the “Environmental Capital of the World” in a speech at the Governors’ Global Climate Summit in 2010.
With this reputation, it's no wonder the university’s transportation system, ASUCD Unitrans, has been on the path to be a sustainable fleet since 1995, the year a compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling station was installed at the maintenance facility located on campus.
After the development of the station, Unitrans began building its green fleet with the purchase of its first CNG-powered Orion buses. Though this campus unit is almost entirely run by students, including drivers, dispatchers and shop assistants, who were not necessarily familiar with CNG or the related equipment at the time, implementation went smoothly.
Today, Unitrans' environmentally-friendly buses provide public, fixed-route transportation for the university and the entire city of Davis, carrying more than 20,000 passengers on a typical day. Unitrans’ entire fleet is made up of 43 CNG buses, as well as two Alexander Dennis double-decks that run on biodiesel and two vintage-style London double-decks converted to run on modern Cummins ISB engines. Included in the CNG fleet is one successfully retrofitted 1950s-era London double-deck running on a John Deere CNG engine, with another is in the works.
The unit’s support vehicles also adhere to UC Davis' strict green standards, with two CNG Honda Civic sedans, several CNG paratransit vehicles and a recently added Toyota RAV4 EV. And to encourage and nurture green transportation beyond the Unitrans fleet, the unit fuels other campus vehicles at its CNG station, including the campus refuse trucks.
With the majority of employees being part-time student workers, including more than 250 total students employees, the task of maintaining and operating a CNG fleet might seem daunting, especially when most people rely so heavily on petroleum-fueled vehicles in their day-to-day lives.
In actuality, the Unitrans staff has made this look easy by employing knowledgeable career staff who educate the students appropriately throughout their time with the unit. Many students eventually hold positions of increased responsibility within the organization, such as supervisor, driver trainer, shop assistant, and even operations and human resources manager. This work experience, coupled with their excellent educational experience at UC Davis, leaves much of the graduating student staff ready to enter and be successful in the workforce, regardless of their field of study.
In partnership with the City of Davis and UC Davis, Unitrans hopes to continue to be a leader in environmental and sustainable projects, decreasing the size of its carbon footprint and setting an example for many other fleets. Many believe that if public transportation can pave the way for automotive sustainability, more sectors will follow.
Thanks to Andrew Wyly and Anthony Palmere of Unitrans for their valuable contributions to this post.
In case you missed it...
Read our METRO blog, "What the 'Google Bus' has taught us."
GRTC is a member of the Virginia Clean Cities (VCC) coalition, which over the years has hosted a variety of workshops, webinars and other training opportunities for fleets interested in transitioning to CNG. Another coalition member — the City of Richmond — inaugurated its fleet of CNG refuse haulers in 2011, which set the stage for GRTC’s transition. View the YouTube video to see how VCC helped the city implement its CNG fleet.
A long-time champion of cleaner, greener technologies, the Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) has provided public bus service to California’s Western Riverside County since 1977. RTA’s service area is among the nation’s largest, covering 2,500 square miles. The agency operates more than 160 buses on 36 fixed routes and eight commuter routes, 98 dial-a-ride vehicles, and 10 trollies.
Building new maintenance facilities for transit agencies are rarities, but when agencies do build them, it’s critical to design and build to the highest performance possible — these facilities and their efficiencies will live on for decades. As part of preserving limited revenue, agencies are focusing on how efficiently design facilities can help the bottom line.
Switching our bus fleet to compressed natural gas from liquefied natural gas and diesel was a carefully weighed decision at DART. But in the end, it was a no-brainer: go with the fuel source that will promote clean air while saving taxpayers $120 million in fuel costs over the next 10 years.
Maintenance facilities are the operational backbone of transit agencies, helping wash, clean and maintain thousands of buses, railcars and ferries each and every day. This regular maintenance makes them huge consumers of water and energy (and money). Many cities across the country are mandating transit agencies create more efficient facilities not only as good stewards of the environment, but also to help the bottom line.