Mass transit : use of alternative fuels in transit buses
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Mass transit : use of alternative fuels in transit buses

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    Improving air quality in urban settings has been a long-standing national objective. Transit buses powered by diesel engines have been identified as contributors to air pollution in these areas. The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) mandated that the General Accounting Office (GAO) study low- and zero-emissions (alternative fuel) technologies for transit buses. This report focuses primarily on compressed natural gas (CNG) because the vast majority of alternative fuel buses are using this fuel. The report addresses (1) the status of the development and use of alternative fuel technologies in transit buses, particularly the use of CNG as a fuel; (2) the air quality benefits of such technologies; (3) the costs incurred by transit operators to use CNG buses, as well as other alternative fuels, compared with the costs to use diesel buses; and (4) the primary incentives and disincentives for using these technologies. Briefly, results of the review indicate that alternative fuel buses account for a very small, but growing portion of the nation's transit bus fleet. In 1997, 5% of the nation's approximately 50,000 transit buses operated on some alternative fuel system. Of those that used alternative fuel in 1998, 75% of them utilized compressed naural gas. Data are limited on the extent to which alternative fuel transit buses provide air quality benefits in urban areas. However, because individual alternative fuel transit buses emit less pollution than do individual buses, alternative fuel buses have some beneficial effect on the air quality of the urban areas in which they operate. Transit operators pay more to buy, maintain, and operate compressed natural gas buses than they pay for diesel buses. At the outset, operators that buy compressed natural gas buses typically pay approximately 15% to 25% more for each of these buses than they do for diesel buses. Constructing a compressed natural gas fueling station typically costs about $1.7 million, and modifying a maintenance facility typically costs about $600,000. Transit operators approach the decision of whether to switch to alternative fuels by considering a range of factors. Factors such as adhering to more stringent emissions standards and the public's concerns about transit bus pollution encourage them to operate alternative fuel transit buses. Factors such as the increased costs and reduced reliability of alternative fuel buses to date discourage the use of fuels other than diesel. 10 Appendices, 3 tables. 51p.
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