Rising and fluctuating diesel and gasoline prices cause stress and uncertainty for fleet operation bottom lines. Fortunately, transit fleet operators may choose from several alternative fuel and vehicle technologies that can provide price stability, lower fuel costs and reduced emissions.
One forward-thinking transit fleet — the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority (SARTA) in Canton, Ohio — is implementing alternatives with great success. With an annual ridership of 2.7 million, SARTA operates 43 transit buses and 41 paratransit vehicles throughout its countywide territory. SARTA first became interested in transitioning to alternative fuels to reduce costs and emissions. After careful consideration, SARTA determined that compressed natural gas (CNG) presented a good opportunity for its fleet.
The Basics of Compressed Natural Gas
CNG has properties that are very similar to gasoline. With its high octane rating, CNG is an excellent fuel for spark-ignited internal combustion engines. CNG can be used in a dedicated natural gas vehicle or in combination with diesel or gasoline in a dual-fuel or bi-fuel vehicle.
Fuel Cost Savings of CNG
CNG has been found to be more cost effective than diesel and gasoline. According to the "Clean Cities Alternative Fuel Price Report," published in October 2013, CNG costs $1.36 less than gasoline (per gallon equivalent) and $1.58 less than diesel. When considered over time, gasoline and diesel prices have shown considerable volatility while the price of CNG has remained relatively constant.
“This predictability and low pricing provides a financial advantage for fleets that rely on CNG for vehicle operations,” said Andrew Conley of Clean Fuels Ohio, a regional Clean Cities coalition that works with fleets to implement alternative fuels.
SARTA’s CNG Success
During the past few years, SARTA has demonstrated regional leadership in deploying alternative fuels and fuel-efficient technologies. In addition to transitioning nine of its transit buses and 13 of its paratransit vehicles to CNG, SARTA added four hybrid-electric buses to its fleet and started using B10, a biodiesel blend consisting of 10% biodiesel and 90% petroleum diesel.
In 2012, SARTA opened a public-access CNG station — currently Frito-Lay, Kimble Refuse and Home City Ice are among the regional natural gas-powered fleets that fuel at the station.
“Everyone wins by using natural gas to operate vehicles,” said SARTA CEO Kirt Conrad. “CNG-powered vehicles run for a fraction of the cost of traditional diesel vehicles, and the fuel comes from domestic sources.”
By working with Clean Fuels Ohio, SARTA was able to receive assistance and secure grant funding for vehicles and infrastructure. This helped reduce SARTA’s initial capital costs and enabled the transit agency to realize a quicker return on investment. As a result, SARTA deployed more alternative fuel vehicles in a shorter amount of time, saving money and improving the environmental performance of its fleet.
These vehicles were made possible thanks to funding from an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act project supported by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Clean Cities initiative.
To view a video on SARTA's experience, click here.
Shifts are long and varying, and facilities are often inadequate for transit employees to truly recharge and stay sharp on the job. But it doesn’t have to be that way. The quality of the environment within facilities can be designed to support shift workers and those with jobs that don’t follow traditional 9-to-5 schedules. Two key elements that can be utilized to support vehicle operator health; creating spaces with adaptability for varied activities and quality lighting that supports the adaptability of the space.
Most transit facilities have a break room for operators to use between shifts — typically an artificially lit space with a TV, vending machines, and cafeteria-style tables and chairs. The trouble is, every person has a different way of relaxing. Besides exposure to daylight and nature, key components of wellbeing are social cohesion and a sense of empowerment. The key here then is to empower employees to choose the best way to relieve their own stress around shifts.
A health and wellness revolution is underway in America. Concurrently, there is a growing public health initiative to promote safer, more accessible recreation facilities and active transit options. Transit agencies are uniquely positioned in the overlap of these two movements. By promoting health and well-being, agencies have an opportunity to show leadership and innovation in a truly holistic approach to total worker health, while benefiting workforce productivity and happiness.
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.