Long Beach Transit Takes Innovative Path

Posted on April 18, 2012 by Janna Starcic, Executive Editor

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When Larry Jackson, president/CEO of California-based Long Beach Transit (LBT) became GM, as the position was previously called, in 1980, the “sleepy” transit system, carried about eight million people a year, with about 300 employees, he says. Today, the operation carries approximately 28 million customers, with a work force of approximately 800, plus an additional 100 contract workers.  

Operation overview
Current services include fixed-route bus service, including ZAP express routes; Passport circulator service; AquaLink and AquaBus water taxi service; Dial-A-Lift paratransit service; and a seasonal Museum Express service, which combined, spans an area of 98 square miles.

The fleet is comprised of 228 buses total, including 185 40-foot coaches, 30 mid-sized Passport shuttles and 13 60-foot articulated coaches. The Dial-A-Lift paratransit service operates 20 vans, while four vessels are used for the water taxi services. Half of LBT’s fixed-route vehicles are hybrid gasoline-electric buses, with the remaining buses using ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel equipped with particulate traps.

All buses have state-of-the-art TranSmart communications systems on board. The system’s features include two-way text, data and voice communication capabilities; automatic stop announcements and global positioning vehicle location. It also enables the display of real-time schedule information on the operation’s website at the recently renovated First Street Transit Gallery and other major stops.

The new Gallery can be likened to a dazzling frame for the transit system’s dynamic bus fleet. Located in downtown Long Beach, the Gallery is a major transit hub that services, in addition to LBT,  Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Los Angeles Department of Transportation and Torrance Transit buses as well as the Metro Blue Line light rail service. Approximately 50,000 people traverse through the Gallery per day to reach their destinations.

The renovated $7 million transit hub, built using federal stimulus funding made available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, features eight bus shelters with wave-like canopies. Other design elements include artwork by local artists (currently murals, poetry and photography with a marine life theme). Amenities include multiple bus benches, electronic real-time bus arrival displays, 24-hour touch screen information kiosks and public restrooms.

Fleet innovations
Taking on innovative projects is nothing new for LBT, as it has long been at the forefront when it comes to greening its bus fleet. More than a decade ago, the transit system introduced ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel to its program and equipped its diesel vehicles with particulate traps. In 2005, the operation moved to gasoline-electric hybrid vehicles, of which they have nearly 100. LBT was the first transit agency in the nation to utilize production model gasoline-electric hybrid technology, which they took on even before they needed to comply with California air standard requirements.

When it came time to replace the remainder of the aging ultra-low sulfur diesel fleet, LBT wasn’t sure if there was going to be a marketplace for hybrid-electric technology, as ISE, the supplier of the hybrid-electric drive systems on its current fleet, was no longer in business. “We couldn’t wait, we had to replace coaches,” Jackson says.

Last year, the transit system adopted a compressed natural gas (CNG) technology track and placed an order for 64 40-foot CNG vehicles from bus manufacturer Gillig out of Hayward, Calif. Per the estimated $32 million order, LBT expects to receive the final vehicles by year’s end.

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