HomeGovernmentGAO Report on Alternative Fuel Transit Buses Cites Higher Costs, Reduced Reliability

GAO Report on Alternative Fuel Transit Buses Cites Higher Costs, Reduced Reliability

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Improving air quality in urban areas, the US General Accounting Office notes, has been a long-standing national objective but achieving it comes at a steep cost to transporters. The GAO published its “Mass Transit Use of Alternative Fuels in Transit Buses” report, confirming what many have said for years: alternative fuels marginally improve air quality but the cost to purchase, operate and maintain those vehicles is lofty.

 The report noted that less than 5 percent of the nation’s estimated 50,000 transit buses operate on some form of alternate fuel and of those, approximately 75 percent of the full-sized transit buses are powered by compressed natural gas.

On a national scale, transit buses do not significantly affect air pollution levels since they represent only about 0.02 percent of the estimated 208 million automobiles in the United States, according to the Department of Transportation. Diesel fuel technology advances in recent years have also brought emissions from vehicles powered by that fuel closer to the levels of alternative fuels, according to the report. Transit operators across the country pay more to operate natural gas buses than they do for diesel buses. Eight of the 12 operators documented in the report use compressed natural gas. Those operators pay 15 percent to 25 percent more per bus than they do to purchase a diesel bus. The construction and maintenance of fueling stations often runs into seven digits in addition to higher maintenance and fuel costs when compared to diesel.

The report concludes that while stricter emission standards and public concerns over transit bus pollution encourage operators to utilize alternative fuel vehicles, the increased costs and reduced reliability of those vehicles serve to discourage that move, particularly with diesel fuel technology improvements.

Source: School Transportation News, February 2000.

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