October 2, 2012

Illinois' Metrolink sends sustainability message

Photo by Rick Haney

Photo by Rick Haney
With a steady focus on sustainability, Rock Island County-based Metrolink provides a reliable alternative to the automobile for eight communities on the Illinois side of the Quad Cities area along the Mississippi River.

The agency began using compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in 2000, which was a cutting-edge decision for a system of its size, according to Jennifer Garrity, manager of administration for Metrolink.

“We have always considered ourselves a leading force in pushing the sustainability initiative in our community, whether it’s through the use of CNG buses or through our marketing campaigns, which feature the tagline ‘Save Something Green,’” said Garrity.

The agency now has a fleet mix comprised of 70% CNG and 30% clean diesel, with a handful of hybrid-electric paratransit vehicles. Garrity explained that the agency is also keeping its eye on hybrid-electric and all-electric vehicles.

“We are keeping an eye out on all the emerging technologies in the market, and might be able to incorporate various types of [alternatively-propelled] vehicles into our fleet,” she said.

Maintaining its sustainability practices, Metrolink is currently building three facilities expected to attain various levels of LEED certification — a transit maintenance facility (at least LEED Silver), a passenger rail station (LEED Silver) and a transfer center in downtown Rock Island (LEED certification only).

Proof of the effectiveness of Metrolink’s efforts is, as they say, in the pudding. The agency has seen ridership grow by about 30% over the last three years, according to Garrity. A big catalyst to this growth has been a slight revamping of services, including increased frequencies on its Main Line and realigned routes to reduce transfers.

Another big factor has been partnerships between Metrolink and three area colleges and universities, which offer students free rides on any of its routes, simply by presenting their campus IDs. One college that has partnered with Metrolink has seen usage grow by 300% over the last year, with another in the 50% to 75% range.

Metrolink will receive the Outstanding Public Transportation System Award for an agency with four million or fewer passenger trips annually.

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