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)
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.
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.
Transit agencies increasingly want third-party validation of their sustainability efforts. They understand that to make improvements, they need to measure what they’re doing. And, that takes special skills and a trained eye. But, finding just the right fit between an agency and an outside advisor/auditor can be challenge.