Switching our bus fleet to compressed natural gas from liquefied natural gas and diesel was a carefully weighed decision at DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit
). 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.
It wasn’t something we took lightly. As a taxpayer-supported agency, it’s contingent on us to examine every option we have, and to balance cost-effectiveness with other factors such as service quality and environmental impact.
To that end, we evaluated many technologies, including “clean diesel” (which didn’t offer significant greenhouse gas or fuel-cost reduction), and diesel/electric hybrid buses (which were expensive to purchase).
In the end, we decided to migrate our bus fleet — some 650 buses — to clean-burning, compressed natural gas (CNG). Although CNG vehicles cost more than diesel vehicles, the fuel to run them saves $1.50 to $2 per gallon. This immediate cost reduction translates into major savings over the life of a vehicle.
But it isn’t just as simple as pulling up to a different pump and filling the tank. There are a lot of “moving parts” to be accounted for – not least of all, the complex procurement of hundreds of CNG-powered buses.
Additionally, we had to design and install a network of filling stations to keep those buses running. In this, we partnered with Clean Energy
, which designs and builds CNG stations all over the country.
Now that the new buses have been on the streets awhile, we can see that the benefits extend beyond saving tax dollars and doing our part for clean air. Customers appreciate that the engines are quieter — and since the exhaust is cleaner, even nearby non-riders can be thankful for the reduction in fumes. Riders also have given us positive feedback about the new buses’ comfort. Meanwhile, DART’s bus drivers have told us they will never miss the days of going home smelling like diesel.
But make no mistake, for transit authorities like ours moving to natural gas pays off in a big way. In fact, as a result of transitioning our bus fleet to CNG, DART will realize fuel savings of roughly $120 million over the course of the next 10 years. Clean Energy co-founder and long-time Dallas resident T. Boone Pickens says, “The public-private partnership of DART and Clean Energy is saving millions of dollars” for DART’s cities, and he’s right.
At DART, we’re used to getting attention for our light-rail system. But the bus system is the backbone of our transit network — we offer 120 bus routes, and serve roughly 250,000 riders on any given weekday. Improvements in bus service impact a greater number of people than any other mode. All told, DART transports the people of Dallas and surrounding cities more than 39 million miles a year — the equivalent of more than 80 round trips to the moon.
The DART story should ring familiar to those who, like me, have called the Dallas area home for many years. The DART Service Area of 13 cities has a way of rising to challenges, and of embracing big-picture solutions. The very existence of DART is one such example. And our agency isn’t just thinking about how to reduce costs, enhance the customer experience and improve the environment for this year or the next — we’re a forward-thinking agency determined to improve the quality of life in the Dallas area for generations to come. It’s a privilege to serve this great region — and no matter how far we’ve come, at DART we’re always just getting started. Kind of like the region we are proud to serve. Gary Thomas is the president and executive director of Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART)
Everyone needs to take a mental and physical break at some point in the workday, whether they’ve been concentrating on a computer screen, the road, or the underside of a bus, truck or train car. The tricky part for transit agencies is that each of these activities takes place in different surroundings, lighting conditions, room temperature and noise levels. With that in mind, consider the following factors in your facility design.
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.