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Green Blue Buses Hit the Street

By Lookout Staff

April 15 -- Keeping up Santa Monica's image as an environmentally-friendly City, the Big Blue Bus has started phasing in 37 new buses that run on liquified natural gas.

The first set of LNG buses was delivered in the middle of March, and all 37 buses are expected to be on the street by June. The buses will replace 12 of the oldest members of the fleet and boost the number of buses by 22 to 183.

Unlike their smoke-belching cousins that run on diesel fuel, the LNG buses emit fewer chemicals into the air and are cheaper to maintain.

"Operating a natural gas bus instead of a new diesel bus is equivalent to eliminating smog and soot from 17 to 33 passenger cars," said Tim Carmichael, executive director of the Coalition for Clean Air.

Diesel engines produce nearly 20 percent of the total nitrogen oxides in outdoor air and are a major contributor to ozone production and smog, the Coalition reports.

The addition of LNG buses to the Big Blue Bus fleet is part of the department's role in the Sustainable City Program, an 8-year-old initiative that encourages the community to "Conserve Today, Preserve Tomorrow."

Under the program, every department in the City of Santa Monica must reduce emissions of greenhouse gases, use more sources of renewable energy, and reduce waste and pollution, among other objectives.

"The new LNG buses are a critical component for making our city a cleaner, healthier, more livable place," said Stephanie Negriff, Acting Director of Transportation Services for the City of Santa Monica. "This environmentally-friendly addition to our fleet gives our passengers another great reason to ride the Big Blue Bus instead of driving."

Along with putting the new buses on the road, the City is expanding its bus facilities to include new LNG and compressed natural gas (CNG) fueling stations, as well as a new bus wash center with a water reclamation system that will cut water use by up to 50 percent.

"The City fleet is CNG," said Big Blue Bus spokesman Dan Dawson. "We're acting as a filling station for the entire city."

Dawson said that the use of various types of natural fuel vehicles is emerging as a trend in the bus industry and that Santa Monica is ahead of the curve.

"We're kind of being the trend setters," Dawson said.

LNG fuel is about 30 percent cheaper per gallon than diesel, even though it takes more LNG fuel to travel the same distance as with diesel. But maintenance on the LNG buses should be cheaper since the exhaust is cleaner, resulting in fewer residues from exhaust and lubricants and less time required for maintenance.

The Big Blue Bus' fleet of 183 vehicles transports more than 80,000 passengers daily, a 17 percent increase between 1990 and 2000, according to measurements made in July 2001.
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