Over the past few weeks, Calif.’s Santa Clarita Transit has replaced five of its 13 diesel-powered commuter coaches with compressed natural gas (CNG) MCI Commuter Coaches — making it one of the first operators in the nation to utilize the alternative fuel for commuter buses.
CNG is nothing new to Santa Clarita Transit, which has been using CNG for their local routed buses since 2014. However, the limited power and range of the CNG vehicles restricted their use to local service only and was not a viable option for the commuter buses. That all changed when MCI introduced the more powerful Cummins 8.9-liter compressed natural gas engine to its line of commuter coaches in late 2014.
The timing of the new vehicle aligned with City Council’s January 2015 authorization of city staff to purchase five new commuter buses to replace Santa Clarita Transit’s oldest fleet vehicles. Given Santa Clarita Transit’s commitment to clean-burning compressed natural gas, and the fact that they already operate MCI’s 45-foot diesel coaches, the transition to CNG commuters was natural.
Following City Council approval, Santa Clarita Transit staff worked closely with MCI over the period of one year to create commuter coaches that met their specific needs. During the last two weeks of December 2015 the new buses left the factory in Pembina, N.D., and made the 2,000 mile journey to Santa Clarita.
Since the arrival of the new buses, staff has been working tirelessly to get them road-ready. This includes completing California Highway Patrol safety inspections, relocation of fareboxes and other electronics from the old coaches, and driver training on the new vehicles. In the last few weeks Santa Clarita Transit staff has been testing all components of the new buses and one-by-one placing them into service.
In November 2015 City Council authorized staff to purchase an additional five commuter coaches. Staff is excited to further embrace the new CNG commuters, and is aiming to have a 100% alternative fuel fleet within the next 10 years.