Sun Tran: Pioneering sustainability in Arizona

Posted on July 29, 2013 by Colleen Crowninshield

Sun Tran Northwest Facility bus storage yard.
Sun Tran Northwest Facility bus storage yard.
Transit agencies across the country are looking for ways to cut emissions, reduce petroleum use and save on fuel costs. Sun Tran, operated by the City of Tucson, Ariz., has been successful on all three fronts and serves as a great example for other public transit providers.

Sun Tran services approximately 20 million passenger trips annually to destinations in and around Tucson. The agency has 253 buses in its fleet, all of which are wheelchair accessible and bike-rack equipped. The agency is strongly committed to maintaining a safe and clean environment, preventing pollution and preserving the Tucson community's natural desert resources.

Sun Tran began experimenting with alternative fuels in 1987 in response to growing concerns over air quality. The agency converted a 35-foot bus to use both compressed natural gas (CNG) and diesel fuel — one of the first such buses in the country. The city installed its own time-fill CNG fueling infrastructure, and by 1997, almost one-half of Sun Tran's fleet ran on CNG. In 1998, Sun Tran signed on as one of the first member organizations in the Tucson Clean Cities Coalition, joining together with other fleets, agencies, and businesses committed to pursuing and/or expanding use of alternative fuels.

SunTran's standard 40-foot biodiesel bus.
SunTran's standard 40-foot biodiesel bus.
Over the course of the last 15 years, Sun Tran has continually strengthened its commitment to providing sustainable public transit. Today, 100% of the Sun Tran fleet uses clean-burning fuels or fuel-saving technologies, including biodiesel, hybrid-electric drive systems and CNG. So far during FY13, Sun Tran estimates it has saved more than $700,000 in fuel costs and averted 800 tons of greenhouse gas emissions through its use of these fuels and technologies. And, the agency shows no signs of slowing: It recently purchased 10 diesel-electric hybrid buses and has plans in place to acquire 45 new dedicated CNG transit buses.

Sun Tran takes its safety and environmental responsibilities seriously in all aspects of its operations. Its transit maintenance facility was the first in the U.S. to receive ISO 14001-compliance certification through a program with Virginia Polytechnic Institute. ISO 14001 is the environmental management system (EMS) standard established by the International Organization for Standardization. Certification demonstrates that an organization has a strong management system in place for continual improvements to its overall environmental performance, including pollution prevention.

Sun Tran’s commitment to alternative fuels has created momentum for similar steps by private-sector fleets and municipalities in the region.

For example, Golden Eagle Distributors, Tucson’s Anheuser Bush distributor, located in close proximity to the Sun Tran facility, launched an initiative in 2011 to transition its entire fleet to CNG and develop its first CNG station near the Sun Tran facility. Golden Eagle learned about CNG use through the Tucson Clean Cities Coalition. Today, the company continues to make new CNG fleet vehicle acquisitions and has plans to open new public/private CNG stations in Casa Grande, Buckeye and Flagstaff in the future.

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Dual roles in transit: Other duties as assigned."

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