All over the country, public transportation systems move hundreds of thousands of riders on a daily basis. These fleets represent a significant portion of public dollars, largely due to the unpredictable price of fuel. But now public transit systems can rely on a cleaner and more economical fuel – natural gas – thanks to our abundant domestic supply.
Los Angeles made the transition to natural gas buses, and has seen significant benefits as a result. In fact, LA Metro is a prime example of the positive change that can come from adding natural gas to a region’s transportation sector. LA Metro has the largest fleet of clean compressed natural gas (CNG) buses in the nation—approximately 2,200. After purchasing its first natural gas bus in 1995, the system retired its last diesel bus in 2011. Annually, LA Metro buses run about 1.5 billion miles a year and as of 2011, LA Metro estimates that its natural gas fleet has collectively driven more than one billion miles.What was behind LA Metro’s decision to change to natural gas? Reducing emissions while saving on fuel costs. Since converting to natural gas, officials estimate that they have cut the release of particulates from the bus fleet by 80 percent and greenhouse gases by about 300,000 pounds each day. In what was one of America’s most smog-plagued areas, this is especially noteworthy. In addition to the savings for the environment, officials estimate that LA Metro is realizing a 10 to 20 percent operational cost savings on fuel alone. For taxpayers in California’s still struggling economy, every public dollar needs to be stretched for maximum value. Thanks to an abundance of supply at affordable prices, natural gas is delivering value for transit systems across the nation.
But are riders noticing the difference? Well if you ask Lizette, one regular LA Metro rider, she’ll tell you about the older buses, noting that “before you could see the smoke and the stuff coming out from the bus and they were louder. They are not as loud and you don't see the smoke which caused the smog in LA,” adding, “It's cleaner now here in LA.”
And Lizette should know: She has been a rider of LA’s buses for 20 years and has seen the visible changes thanks to the transition to natural gas.
Greater use in public transportation is just one example of how natural gas can power major fleets with real benefits. Plus the dual benefits of affordability and significantly lower emissions show that with natural gas, we do not have to choose between powering our growing transportation network and cleaning our environment. Natural gas has allowed Los Angeles to demonstrate that, in fact, even large metro areas can have both.
And that’s worth thinking about.