Management & Operations

Transportation Industry Steps Up Efforts to Go Green

Posted on March 24, 2008 by Alex Roman, Senior Editor


Films like Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” and daily news reports of studies measuring our impact on the environment, along with the realization that the world is approaching peak oil, have made “going green” a rallying cry for many industries — transportation is no different.

As a reaction to the oil predicament and the high cost of fuel, many agencies have begun using biodiesel, ultra-low sulfur diesel, natural gas or diesel-electric hybrids. There are still many other ways for transit agencies to go green, some easy and some inventive. Some agencies have already jumped ahead of their counterparts to implement what they believe to be future eco-friendly practices to help make transit an even more eco-friendly industry.

Grow recycling programs
Recycling could be the easiest step to take in the effort to go green. Many transit agencies are beginning to grow their recycling programs beyond the usual everyday garbage to items including e-waste, batteries, scrap metal, oil, antifreeze and water.

Oakland, Calif.’s AC Transit has increased its efforts in the last few years to include e-waste, such as keyboards, monitors, printer cartridges and computer mice, in addition to its trash and hazardous materials recycling programs.

Most of its e-waste is recycled by donating it to local public schools, a benefit to students in schools that don’t have funds to purchase new computer equipment, explains Clarence Johnson, media affairs manager at AC Transit.

“It’s a way for us to make sure that we’re not contributing to the hazards in the environment,” Johnson says of the agency’s efforts. “It’s an evolving program; it’s not just something that we all of a sudden put in place.”

At Houston’s Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County (Metro) the agency has set up extensive programs in its shops to reduce, reuse and recycle scrap metal, hazardous fluids, wood pallets and water.

Metro’s Manager of Operations Facilities Gregg Robinson and Carl Sanders, supervisor, environmental services, say the agency has agreements with companies that remove their oil and hazardous fluids, and receive a reimbursement for each wooden pallet being discarded. Other programs include agreements with companies that mine Metro’s old filters for metal and a switch to green-tipped fluorescent lighting, which contain lower levels of mercury and, therefore, can be disposed of in a regular trash receptacle.

Perhaps the agency’s biggest cost-savings program is its use of recycled water in its bus washing system. The fresh water used for the final rinsing of buses is recycled and used to water the brushes that scrub the buses at the beginning of the wash cycle, Sanders says. This seemingly simple measure saves the agency approximately 14 percent or 100,000 gallons of water a month, which is huge, considering Metro’s estimated 1,200-vehicle bus fleet.

Reclaiming brownfields
Taking steps toward sustainability, many agencies are now building LEED-certified buildings wherever possible. LEED is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings, with criteria for attaining LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, including energy and atmosphere of the building, and materials and resources used in the construction.

The Rapid in Grand Rapids, Mich., recently attained LEED-certification for its Rapid Central Station — a three-story building that houses its ticketing and information center, a passenger waiting area, a café, a conference center and offices.

“Grand Rapids, as a community, is very interested in sustainability,” explains Jennifer Kalczuk, external relations manager for the Rapid. “We have a number of LEED-certified buildings and so it seemed very appropriate for our circumstance.”

The Central Station was also built on what’s called a Brownfield site — a piece of land that’s reuse may be complicated by the presence or potential presence of a hazardous substance, pollutant or contaminant. Cleaning up and reinvesting in Brownfield properties takes development pressures off of undeveloped, open land and both improves and protects the environment.

The Rapid used low VOC materials for its carpets, paints and sealants, as well as regional materials whenever possible to cut down on transportation costs. It also installed a terrazzo floor made of recycled glass in its mezzanine, which it expects to be one part of its ongoing cost savings.

“There are no tiles that need to ever be replaced,” Kalczuk says. “The floor is expected to last in excess of 50 years with no maintenance other than cleaning it.”

Budgeting for the project was structured so that big ticket items were able to be put off until the agency was far enough along in the project to know where it was on contingency, Kalczuk adds. The station was built using primarily federal and state money.

Reusing materials
The Regional Transportation Commission (RTC) of Washoe County in Nevada is using many of the same features The Rapid used in the building of its LEED-certified structure for the construction of its Centennial Plaza in Sparks, set to open in October of this year, as well as its 4th Street Transit Center, which is currently in design.

The RTC also added a public art element, created by nationally and internationally acclaimed artist Donald Lipske, that it hopes will give residents something to connect with and be proud of, according to Chris Tschirhart, project manager for the RTC.

Tschirhart adds that another aspect that enabled the transit agency to attain LEED certification for the building was the pulverizing of old concrete and asphalt from the original site that was reused as base material for the project. In addition, old trees removed from the site were reused as fuel for a power plant. Both practices helped save money by eliminating trucking and new materials costs.

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority (LACMTA) is currently awaiting LEED-silver certification for its 45,000 square-foot operating headquarters in El Monte, Calif. The facility houses one of its bus operating divisions, as well as a sheriff’s substation and offices for its San Gabriel Valley service sector.

The total cost of the project was $13 million, with an estimated additional $219,000 cost to go LEED-certified, according to LACMTA’s Tim Lindholm, director of capital projects. “It was hardly anything, a couple of percent at best, which pays back — in we think — five years, roughly,” he says.

LACMTA decided to put its money into efficiency, because it would give the agency economic returns down the road, Lindholm says. As a result, the agency used high-efficiency glass that brings in daylight without heating the building. It also used sensors that enable the agency to use only 50 percent of the water and 33 percent of the electricity that a normal building would usually consume.

The agency also stipulated that any future structure that exceeds 10,000 square feet must be LEED-silver certified at a minimum. “It takes some work, but we think it’s worth it in the end,” says Lindholm.

‘Big Blue’ goes green
LEED-certified buildings aren’t the only type of structures that agencies are creating with a green focus. Santa Monica, Calif.’s Big Blue Bus built its Blue, The Transit Store, with many recycled materials and also sells “green-friendly” products.

“We wanted to make a retail environment that was really hot and hip and contemporary that showcased public transit, the city and a lot of green features,” explains Dan Dawson, customer relations manager for Big Blue. “The first thing we did was look at the construction of the building itself and figured how to make it as green as possible.”

The store serves as the new home for Big Blue’s customer service team and offers trip planning, maps, schedules, lost and found services, and a variety of fare passes for its customers. Some of the recycled products used in the making of the store include, floors made from recycled tires, counter tops made from recycled paper and plastic, and walls and cabinetry constructed from renewable formaldehyde-free strawboard.

Dawson, who says that the idea for the store came to him after reading an article about a similar style of store in New York, explains that the store features extra-wide window sills made with reflective material to allow sunlight to reflect upward onto a specially curved building that enables the agency to light the whole store with natural light.

“We also installed windows that actually open up and down, allowing circular air movement in the winter and summer to help heat and cool the location with natural air,” says Dawson. Additionally, the store uses photovoltaic panels on of the outside the building that glow blue at night and generate enough power for the agency to light the store every night without drawing any power from the grid.

In addition to implementing green practices in its structure, the transit store also focuses on selling only green-friendly products, such as notepads, bookmarks and tree ornaments that are made of seeds that when planted grow California wildflowers, as well as t-shirts made of organic cotton.

Dawson says that finding the green products was the tough part. “It’s really surprised me how difficult it’s been to find products that truly are green, something that hasn’t been manufactured in a bad way that hurts the environment or is made from something that’s bad for the environment.”

Along with the improvement of location over its former customer service center, Santa Monica’s store itself has helped generate a buzz in the area with locals and tourists, resulting in the agency fielding an additional 700 phone calls in the first month and increasing foot traffic significantly.

Harness sun’s rays
LACMTA is one of many operations that have successfully harnessed solar power to their advantage. The agency used the successful installation of solar panels at two San Fernando Valley bus operation centers to create its recently completed project in Carson, Calif., as well as set into motion plans to install as many solar panels as it conceivably can in the next three years.

LACMTA used rebates from the Southern California Gas Co. and Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, which were received by the two previous projects to help offset the costs of the new $5 million, 498 kilowatt project.

“For the previous projects we had pretty much covered the roofs of our maintenance and transportation buildings with solar panels,” Lindholm says. “In Carson, we had a big parking lot and we wanted to try shade structures, which our employees like in the parking lots because it keeps their cars cleaner and cool in the summer. So, we built these shade canopies that are all covered with solar panels.”

According to Lindholm, the panels are expected to generate 600,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity per year, enough renewable power to save the Carson division $17,000 per month, or approximately $200,000 a year. He also adds that the project will pay itself off in a relatively short amount of time.

“The [solar project] in the Valley paid back somewhere in the 8-year timeframe,” says Lindholm. “With the one in Carson it’s in the 11- to 12-year range, because the shade structures cost a little bit more money, we didn’t get as good a rebate and solar panel prices are going up.”

Lindholm explains that each solar panel installation has progressively gotten bigger in scale and that trend will continue with its newest project at its central maintenance facility slated to generate a megawatt of power. LACMTA will also up the ante with this project, by establishing a private public partnership (PPP) with Chevron for the financing, design and construction of the installation.

“The rebate part of this project will work a bit differently because Chevron actually guarantees all of the savings from the retrofits we do inside the shop and the power generation for ten years,” says Lindholm, who adds that by financing the project the agency saves $50,000 a month. The agency estimates that it will pay off the project in 10 years, with a return on investment coming in 20 years, and because the solar panels last for 30 years, Lindholm says LACMTA expects to be able to make “free money” through rebates for an additional 10 years.

If the PPP works, LACMTA will use the model to fund the further installation of solar panels across all of its facilities, which include 11 bus maintenance operation yards, four rail yards and a number of park ‘n rides.

Hydrogen fuel tests
While most transit agencies are switching to alternative fuels, such as biodiesel, ultra-low sulfur diesel, compressed or liquid natural gas, several agencies are already looking to the future by running tests with hydrogen as a fueling source.

Hartford-based Connecticut Transit (CTTransit) is currently testing a hydrogen-hybrid Van Hool coach equipped with a fuel-cell created by UTC Power on its downtown shuttle route.

“It’s a two-year project, we’re coming up to almost the end of the first year, but we have other available funding already in the works to continue the project after the initial project runs out,” says Stephen Warren, CTTransit’s assistant GM, maintenance.

The coach travels 300 miles on eight tanks, or 50 kilograms, of hydrogen, and, because it is a hydrogen-hybrid, it enables the agency to turn off the hydrogen supply and the fuel cell and run the bus on electricity inside the facility. It also creates zero-emissions.

“It’s very quiet, you can’t hear the fuel cell from inside and you can barely hear it outside if you put your ear up to it,” Warren says. “The loudest noise is a fan-air compressor from the A/C system.” Warren adds that the ride is also vibration-free because there is no internal combustion engine.

The project’s success has helped create a partnership with the Northeast Advanced Vehicle Consortium, UTC Power and the FTA that will enable CTTransit to equip four more buses with the hydrogen fuel-cell technology by mid-2009 to extend testing. The agency also has a different partnership in the works that will test hydrogen fuel cells using a battery dominate design beginning in late 2009.

Warren explains that so far there have only been slight integration challenges with nickel sodium-chloride batteries, which will probably be changed for future programs, and getting the hybrid design and fuel cell technology to work together.

“This is the most technologically advanced bus in the world, it’s computers talking to computers,” enthuses Warren. “It’s had some challenges, but we’ve overcome most of them. At this point, it’s not quite ready for prime time production, but it will be in a couple of years and this pilot will help us get there.”

Achieve emission targets
The Centre Area Transportation Authority in State College, Pa., along with the Pennsylvania Transportation Institute (PTI) is testing the feasibility of a fuel using a 30 percent blend of hydrogen with CNG, dubbed HCNG, on a 40-foot bus that services Pennsylvania State University.

“It fills just like a regular CNG fill, same pressure, same tanks, everything,” explains Joel Anstrom, research associate for the PTI. “The only real difference is that the air-fuel ratio in the engine is relatively low. It still combusts because of the hydrogen, but it does it at a cooler temperature, so it produces hardly any NOx and very little unburned hydrocarbons.”

Anstrom and his co-research associate Zoltan Rado have found that the engine that Collier Technologies Inc., has created for the project is able to achieve 2007 heavy-vehicle emissions targets without any aftertreatment, and suspect that with the addition of a catalytic converter the engine technology will likely meet 2010 emission regulations.

“We had some issues with reliability initially, but they ended up being simple hardware problems,” says Anstrom. “As soon as we got some of the basic hardware problems solved, then its been pretty reliable.”

Because hydrogen is a dense gas, there is a slight loss of volumetric efficiency, which causes power loss in the engine. To even out that loss, and to be able to climb the area’s hilly terrain, the program is using an 11-liter engine, instead of a standard 8.5-liter engine.

To this point, the HCNG-equipped bus has traveled 25,000 miles and its success has created a partnership between Collier and Daewoo, prompting plans to open a plant in Nevada that will manufacture the engines.

Fuel economy
Meanwhile, using part of a $1.5 million grant that the Toledo (Ohio) Area Regional Transit Authority (TARTA) received for testing 80 percent ULSD mixed with 20 percent biofuel, the agency is also studying the benefits of injecting a small amount of hydrogen into the air intake of a mini-bus, dubbed BH-1, using the B20 fuel.

“I was expecting to get about a 5 percent improvement in fuel economy and we’ve actually seen an average of about 15 percent improvement, which is quite an accomplishment,” says John Everton, president of H2 Engine Systems Inc., the company that is directing the study.

Currently, the test uses bottled hydrogen; however, future long-term plans include generating hydrogen onboard from water using a proprietary technology.

Additional fuel-efficiency testing is planned for 2008 on BH-1, including tailpipe emission evaluations.

“If you can save 15 percent of your fuel bill a year, it’s worth $300,000 or $400,000 dollars a year in savings to a small entity such as TARTA, and far more to a larger agency,” says Everton. “What you do with the hydrogen is claim the same improvements in the engines operating points as you do with a hybrid, but without the cost.”


5 Steps Motorcoach Operators Can Take to Go Green

As chairperson of the UMA Technology Committee and CEO of Seattle-based Starline Luxury Coaches, Gladys Gillis has been at the forefront of the push to go green in the motorcoach industry. In fact, Starline has just launched a Website,, that provides tips to operators about what they can do to be more environmentally friendly, most of which are already practiced or in the implementation stage at her own operation.

Gillis says there are five steps motorcoach operators can take to do their part in cleaning up the environment, however, a clearer conscience doesn’t always come cheap.

“I’ve just purchased three new coaches and honestly I didn’t need new coaches, but I bought them specifically because I wanted to start upgrading my fleet to the 2007 engine,” says Gillis. “That decision cost me at least an extra $200,000 per coach and that’s a big decision for a small operator to make.”

So where’s the best place to start and what should be an operators’ ultimate goal in the push to go green? Below are Gillis’ five suggestions based on both dollars and the operators’ environmental responsibility:

1. Begin with recycling: There are many things that motorcoach operators can recycle, including oil, tires and batteries, but recycling begins with your everyday garbage. Gillis explains that the best place to begin is to get two dumpsters, one for trash and one for recycling, and to train drivers to make them aware of what can or cannot be recycled.

This practice becomes especially important when the operator offers its customers box lunches as part of the trip. “When customers are done eating their box lunches, they bring all that waste back on to the bus to be disposed of. A private operator could place a garbage can for recyclables on the bus and train drivers how it is to be used,” says Gillis. Anti-idling procedures also fit into this category.

2. Install particulate filters on older coaches: Clean air acts in some states, such as a close-to-being-regulated proposal in California, are putting pressure on public and private transportation industries to clean up their emissions. One way to do this is to purchase and install particulate filters on older coaches. This can be a very costly solution, with particulate filters available for older units costing between $9,000 and $20,000 per bus.

“It is a substantial investment, but it’s an opportunity to improve your emissions and reduce your carbon footprint,” says Gillis of particulate filters. “A private operator choosing to spend their money this way would be doing it purely for the sake of the environment.” Gillis adds that a recent push by mayors from around the U.S. to implement the measures called for in the Kyoto Protocol — a worldwide effort to clean up the environment that was signed by most major countries except the U.S. — could add funding for transit agencies, but probably not the private operator.

3. Invest in 2007 engine technology: EPA-stipulated changes in engine technology have made the new 2007 engines far cleaner than anything the industry has seen in the past. As mentioned earlier, the additional cost of getting a coach with a 2007 engine could be somewhere around $200,000 per vehicle, however, in the grand scheme of things, an operator’s passion for maintaining an eco-friendly environment can be worth much more.

“It’s definitely something people should get excited about,” says Gillis of the 2007 engine technology. “Frankly, the new engines are better than taking an old engine and running biodiesel in it.”

4. Go hybrid: Hybrid coaches are a great solution to just switching to biodiesel or installing particulate filters, but it is much more expensive. A hybrid coach typically costs $350,000 more than a regular motorcoach and Gillis says that justifying the additional money it will cost the customer to use the hybrids is difficult. “Most of my customers want to be green, but not that green,” she says.

Like installing particulate filters, this decision would be much easier for coach operators if federal funds were available.

5. Buy carbon credits: In an ideal world, Gillis believes that buying carbon credits is the ultimate step for operators on a quest to go green. The purchasing of carbon credits aims to reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions on an industrial scale by capping total annual emissions and letting the market assign a monetary value to any shortfall through trading. Credits can be exchanged between businesses or bought and sold in international markets at the prevailing market price. Credits can be used to finance carbon reduction schemes between trading partners and around the world. The idea is a bit controversial, but Gillis explains that it can be beneficial, especially if operators were forced to pay more for carbon credits the way some private businesses must worldwide. Of course, purchasing of carbon credits is not mandatory for operators.

“There are real things that we can do in this business and they are not hard to understand and do not cost millions of dollars, unless you’re talking about upgrading your entire fleet to hybrids,” says Gillis in summation. “I encourage operators to spend money on the ground level stuff and when you get past that consider the particulate trap upgrades, then go from there.”


Green Initiatives for Motorcoach Operators

  • Skylights with sensors turn low-mercury fluorescent lights on and off as needed to conserve energy.
  • A control panel minimizes energy use by automatically turning evaporative coolers, ventilation and other energy-intensive devices on and off.
  • Strategically placed skylights effectively illuminate work areas while conserving electricity.


  • Hand-held refillable and pressurized cans can be used for spot parts and brake cleaning.
  • Switch to LED lamps.
  • Heat shop with waste oil burner. Store oil over summer months for winter consumption.
  • Recycle used tires or ensure that your lease program is recycling.
  • Eliminate products containing phosphates.
  • Treat shop floors to disallow oil penetration.
  • An aqueous parts washer, made of stainless steel to prevent corrosion, eliminates the need for solvents.
  • A holding system for air-conditioning refrigerant is used during maintenance for collection and reuse.
  • Wheeled stations provide quick response to leaks or spills.
  • Portable oil caddies collect used oil drained from vehicles. The caddies are drained into a used oil sink, where a compressed-air pump transfers the used oil to a tank. Metal oil filter casings are crushed and recycled.
  • Absorbent pads that soak up used oil and antifreeze are stored in drums with lids that can be secured. Recycle these items.
  • An all-electric rotary lift with a screw drive will eliminate the need for hydraulic oil.
  • Power steering fluid can be filtered through an exchanger and then returned to the vehicle after servicing is completed.
  • Hydraulic lifts can be located above ground and sealed to prevent hydraulic oil leaks.
  • Promote pollution prevention and recycling.

    Paint Shop:

  • In the paint colorant mixing room, blend just enough paint for the job in small quantities or a half-pint or less to reduce waste.
  • Paint thinner waste can be reduced by 90 percent by using a closed loop filter system to remove particles and reuse the liquid.


  • Buy 2007 engine technology and get 90 percent reduced particulate matter emission prevention.
  • Buy ultra-low sulfur diesel.
  • Buy biodiesel.


  • Train all employees on “green” initiatives to ensure their daily choices support a sustainable future.
  • Bring in professionals to train ship personnel in how to keep the fleet delivering greener results through optimized performance and more efficient operation.
  • Train drivers to increase green performance through proper coach operation.
  • Utilize automated cut-off/limit-idle features that automatically shut off the engine if the coach has been idling too long.
  • Maximize usage of fuel-efficient cruise control as well as reduce the road speed governor setting to 68 mph.
  • Train mechanics and drivers to maintain proper tire pressure. Tire pressure monitoring systems can increase miles per gallon.

    Source: Gladys Gillis, chairperson of the UMA Technology Committee.

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