President Barack Obama’s federal stimulus plan ranges all the way from state governments to local transit agencies, and Unitrans stands to benefit from nearly $2 million.
Geoff Straw, general manager of Unitrans, said all the money will go toward 25 new clean-burning buses to take the place of 25 older buses eligible for replacement by the end of 2010.
Unitrans will also receive $1.5 million in an interregional loan from Yuba-Sutter Transit in Marysville and an additional $1 million for being ranked the number one transit project in the region, which spans Yolo, Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado, Yuba and Sutter counties. The money from the region will enable Unitrans to buy 10 new natural gas buses.
“We’re replacing first generation natural gas buses, from 1995-1996, which are quite frankly, arcane,” said Straw. “A new diesel bus today is cleaner than an old natural gas bus, and indication of how far the technology has come.“
Straw said the buses from 1995 release more than five grams per brake horsepower of NOx – oxides with nitrogren – into the atmosphere.
“NOx is what’s dangerous because it reacts with the sun to create smog, and it’s particularly bad in the summer in the Sacramento area,” he said.
The new buses will put out only .2 grams of NOx per brake horsepower – significantly less chemicals than their predecessors.
Straw also ensured that natural gas buses will not release any particulate matter – the black cloud that often follows a diesel bus.
“You will not see a puff come out of a natural gas bus, even the ones from 1995,” he said.
Justin Chan, a junior sociology major and Unitrans driver, said they take great pride in their clean natural gas identity and try to use diesel buses as little as possible, and only as a backup.
“I’m proud to be a bus driver because I’ve always supported the idea of public transportation and I do believe it makes an enormous difference,” said Chan. “The demand is very high in the mornings and pretty much throughout the day, and we have significantly fewer emissions than if every one of those students were driving their car.“
An additional benefit of the stimulus money is that it does not require local matching funds – fees from students or the city of Davis. This permits Unitrans to move ahead with other projects, said Straw.
One such project is an automatic vehicle location system. Riders with a web-enabled phone can get on the Internet to see when their bus will be at a stop or view a map that shows where all of the buses are.
“Or you can text your bus stop number to a phone number that will be posted on the bus stop sign, and it will tell you when the next two buses will be there,” said Straw.
Unitrans runs a total of 49 buses, and is constantly buying and replacing them, said Straw. Of the 15 buses eligible for replacement by the end of 2010, and not covered by the stimulus funds, six will arrive by the end of May 2009 and two more double decker buses will arrive in October. Three more regular buses will be purchased with account savings and the final four will be rehabilitated.
“We’ll put new fuel tanks in them so they can run for seven more years,” said Straw. “By June 2011 our entire fleet will be ultra-clean, natural gas burning buses or clean burning diesel.“
Chan said he’s glad Unitrans is conscientious enough to strive to use the cleanest fuel they can come by.
“Public transportation is the future, and if there’s one thing we can do to stay alive on this plan it’s bolster public transportation.“
Unitrans has 3.4 million annual boardings, according to their website, and 19,600 on a typical school day. Ninety-six percent of riders are either students, staff or faculty, and 14 lines run all-day service.
MIKE DORSEY can be reached at email@example.com.