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National Express Transit Blog

How Transit Agencies are Utilizing Alternative Fuel Sources Effectively

alternative fuel in public transit

Transit agencies have always been at the mercy of market forces, balancing viable transportation technologies with rider demand and, of course, successful business practices. One way that this balance has been addressed has been through the adoption of economical propulsion technologies, such as CNG (compressed natural gas).

Today, however, there’s one more force to be reckoned with, environmental impact. Again, the balance must be struck, and transit companies are meeting the challenge with clean diesel, electric, and hybrid technologies. The result is fewer emissions, higher profitability, and, in some cases, even better service to the consumer.

Alternative Fuels

In the last decade, transit companies have led the way in adopting alternative fuel technologies. APTA (the American Public Transportation Association) reports transit agencies, in 2014, were up to 41.3% alternative-fuel utilization. At the same time, just 2.1% of private automobiles were taking advantage of the same technologies, according to EIA (Energy Information Administration) reports.

Public bus fleets are a prime example of progress in alternative fuels adoption. APTA reports that public bus fleets are 16.9% diesel-hybrid, 16.7% CNG and LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas), 7.4% biodiesel, and 0.3% other alternative fuels, such as propane, hydrogen, and electric. Other alternative fuel options are sure to make an impact. The DOT (Department of Transportation) currently reports 300 zero-emissions buses, including electric and hydrogen, operating across the United States.

  • In New York, Albany’s CDTA (Capital District Transportation Authority) operates 77 biodiesel-hybrid electric buses, over 20% of the fleet, enjoys a 50% increase in fuel economy.
  • In Michigan, Ann Arbor’s “TheRide” fleet is over 65% diesel-hybrid and biodiesel-hybrid, over 50 buses each saving some $4,738 per year in fuel costs. An additional 27 are replacing older models to improve overall fleet fuel economy and expand services.
  • In Illinois, Arlington Heights’ 91 CNG buses are expected to save $1 million in refueling costs each year, in comparison to the diesel fleet, with comparable reductions in emissions.
  • In Texas, Fort Worth’s “The T” fleet was actually one of the first to adopt alternative fuels, starting in 1989. Over 100 buses, mobility vans, and trolleys comprise the 100%-CNG fleet.
  • In California, Coachella Valley’s SunLine Transit company currently runs three hydrogen fuel cell buses and a public-access alternative fuel station in Thousand Palms, featuring both CNG and hydrogen fuel.
  • Also in California, the AVTA (Antelope Valley Transit Authority) is in the midst of converting the entire diesel fleet to electric. The changeover should be complete by 2018, including 29 new electric buses and wireless inductive chargers embedded in the ground.

Alternative Thinking

Transit agencies are slowly taking advantage of these new and cleaner alternative fuel technologies, some of them funded by local and state governments and others taking advantage of federal grants and incentives. On the other hand, there are ways to improve transportation needs, albeit on a smaller scale, if we think outside the box a little. Last-mile solutions may include bikesharing (Zagster, Zyp, Relay), ridesharing (Carma, Sidecar), carsharing (car2go, ZipCar), or ridesourcing (Lyft, Uber). Because bus lines don’t go everywhere, transit agencies should consider integrating these last-mile options to improve ridership, profitability, and overall emissions reduction.

Most people realize they don’t use their cars all the time. The average commuter, for example, may only drive the car to work and home, where it sits all day or all night, basically taking space and wasting money (car payments, insurance, maintenance, etc.). Such drivers might consider a bus or trolley if it didn’t require walking long distances to their final destinations. In this case, last-mile options could effectively fill the gap without adding a significant burden to either party.

Future of Transit Agencies

Moving into the future, transit companies will take an even more active role in shaping both the economy and emissions-profile where they operate. By increasing alternative fuel adoption and taking advantage of last-mile options, future transit agencies can provide a seamless transportation experience for each and every rider. Riders will spend less, and waste less, on transportation, and still get where they need to go.