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Metro Transit Getting Greener

December 02, 2010 By Mina Bakhtiar, Undergraduate Research Fellow

Metro Transit recently captured competitive federal grants that will help it add more energy efficient busses and install a geothermal heating and cooling system at a Hiawatha Light Rail maintenance facility.

The Federal Transit Administration awarded the Minnesota agency two grants, worth $1.2 million each, because Metro Transit’s projects offered a return on investment and exhibited innovation. Project readiness and capacity to carry out the project also factored into the awards.

The grants are part of the Transit Investments in Greenhouse Gas and Energy Reductions (TIGGER) Program, which allocated a total of $100 million to different projects nationwide.

Starting next year, Metro Transit will expand its Franklin Street Light Rail storage and maintenance facility to house more vehicles; adding geothermal heating and cooling is part of that expansion.

The other FTA grant will pay for two hybrid busses. The new busses are series drive vehicles, which feature several hybrid technologies making them more environmentally sustainable. Both use regenerative braking systems, a process which uses kinetic energy from braking to power the engine.

Additionally, both busses will use a considerable amount of battery power in place of engine power. Nearly 100 busses in the MetroTransit fleet currently use parallel drive systems, meaning that both the engine and the battery work to propel the vehicle away from the curb. Bob Gibbons with Metro Transit explained that a bus is most energy inefficient when it is leaving the curb; battery power serves to counter harmful emissions released at that point.

“The engines on these new busses are about the size of a pickup truck, which is much smaller than the engines normally used on larger transit vehicles,” he said.

 Battery power also makes the bus quieter because there is no engine roar as it leaves the curb, he added.

MetroTransit received the two grants because it proved an ability to meet all the criteria of the FTA’s TIGGER, program, but, as Gibbons explained, that wasn’t an easy process. For instance, the grant to install geothermal required a significant amount of research prior to applying for funding.

“We had two facilities in mind for geothermal. One is a new building being constructed at the corner of 26th and Hiawatha, which is called the rail support center, which will be open next year,” Gibbons said. “We did soil boring and testing and determined that it would cost too much to drill wells under the support center because of the nature of the bedrock.”

Ultimately, the shift toward sustainable public transportation is a principle force in stimulating economic growth, and with energy efficient savings, transit agencies can reinvest in even newer technologies.

In the face of decreasing state revenues, all public amenities must seek smarter ways to lower fuel costs (and carbon emissions). Increasing fuel efficiency is a good step to ensure quality public transportation thrives despite an economic downturn.

This initiative is a great sign for public transportation’s sustainability in Minnesota. It also demonstrates the importance of smart public policy at the local and federal level.

Through TIGGER, federal officials have set sustainable transit goals and have allowed agencies to innovate in a competitive funding process. The policy is not just environmentally friendly, but also economically smart. Not only does it encourage innovation in new, cleaner technologies but it also mandates that the providers of a basic public good save money in doing so.

It also should be noted that the process by which sustainable technology is incorporated into public goods is a gradual one, so the need to take legislative measures is immediate.

Gibbons explained the newer hybrid busses won’t hit the streets until the middle of 2012, and even then, future additions hinge upon the vehicles’ success in the Twin Cities’ climate and operating systems.

The transition to sustainability is undoubtedly a slow one, and that’s why encouraging economic prudence and innovation should be a primary goal of those newly elected in Minnesota. In this economic atmosphere, the decision to tie environmental consciousness to fiscal policy is not just smart, but necessary.

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  • Tim Bonham says:

    December 7, 2010 at 3:53 pm

    “The engines on these new busses are about the size of a pickup truck, which is much smaller than the engines normally used on larger transit vehicles,” he said.

    About the size of a pickup truck is considered small?

    Something is wrong with this statement.  Such an engine would take up a big part of the whole bus.

    Maybe he meant to say that the new engines are about the size of a pickup truck engine?  That might make sense.