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David Pendered

GRTA’s reports offer insights into metro Atlanta’s carbon footprint

By David Pendered

A new report from GRTA shows fuel consumption by its bus fleet has dropped by just over 18 percent since July, largely because the system is following basic conservation tips.

Metro Atlanta's air quality is related to tailpipe exhaust, which commuters can address through their decisions on how to travel around the region. On Monday, the air quality was on the border between "good" and "unhealthy for sensitive groups." Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

Metro Atlanta’s air quality is related to tailpipe exhaust, which commuters can address through their decisions on how to travel around the region. Monday morning, the air quality was “good” and declined to “moderate” in the afternoon. Credit: Georgia Department of Natural Resources

This reduction is noteworthy as the Atlanta region enters ozone season. Less fuel consumed translates to less of the tailpipe exhaust that is a major contributor to dirty air.

The fuel report is just one of GRTA’s performance metrics that offers some interesting insights into the region’s carbon footprint, as it relates to commuting and the 12-county Xpress bus service.

Tedra Cheatham, executive director of the Clean Air Campaign, noted at GRTA’s board meeting this month that Xpress is part of a comprehensive approach to improving air quality, which also is boosting metro Atlanta’s reputation as a good place to do business.

Then Cheatham rattled off a number of highlights about the evolution of commuting patterns:

  • 400,000 metro Atlantans now choose an alternative to a solo car trip, up from 350,000 commuters in 2007;
  • 1 million miles of vehicle travel have been eliminated;
  • Commuters have realized $500,000 in direct financial savings;
  • 550 tons of pollution, plus CO2, have been kept out of the air.
Fuel consumption by the Xpress bus service has decreased since the system took a series of steps to conserve fuel. Credit: GRTA

Fuel consumption by the Xpress bus service has decreased since the system took a series of steps to conserve fuel. Credit: GRTA

“We definitely feel we’re trending in the right direction,” Cheatham said. “People are listening, people are getting the word that we are a great place to do business … and people can get their goods and services across the region.”

Air quality reports indicate the region still needs to focus on reducing pollution. No smog alerts have been issued so far this year, but the air quality has been reported at “moderate” on 35 days this year, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.

January has been the worst month of this year, with nine days in the moderate, or yellow, zone. The “moderate” rating is one notch below the “good” zone and above the warnings of: “unhealthy for sensitive groups,” “unhealthy,” and “very unhealthy.”

In 2012, there were 21 days with smog alerts. The region had 134 days of “good” air quality; 207 of “moderate” air quality; 18 days of “unhealthy for sensitive groups” air quality; and one day with “very unhealthy” air quality, DNR reported.

Steve Hendershott, GRTA’s chief regional transit operations officer, tracks a number of performance indicators that indicate the carbon footprint of the Xpress bus service.

Consider only fuel consumption, which GRTA has sought to reduce.

GRTA’s reports show the Xpress bus fleet burned 3,164 gallons a day in July. The daily burn rate had dropped to 2,586 gallons in February. The reduction doesn’t stem from a reduction in miles driven. That has remained relatively constant over time, at about 14,860 miles.

What has changed is some routine practices, such as governed speed and maintaining proper tire pressure, according to the report.

“We’ve taken actions in maintenance that we believe are causal to this,” Hendershott told the board. “We’re seeing some good results from some of these things.”

Another aspect of the drop in consumption stems from GRTA’s policy to reduce unnecessary idling of its buses.

GRTA won the inaugural UPS Exemplary Diesel Idle Reduction Award in November from the Clean Air Campaign. UPS runs an aggressive fuel conservation program that focuses on reducing the number of miles driven and time vehicles idle. UPS and the Clean Air Campaign have worked together since 2008 to reduce unnecessary idling.

Hendershott noted that the reductions in fuel consumption will disappear at some point.

“We still have to use fuel,” Hendershott said.

David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.



  1. SteveVogel April 23, 2013 9:44 am

    And not a word about commuter rail…..Report

    1. The Last Democrat in Georgia April 24, 2013 5:48 am

      SteveVogel  Of course not…Why would a major metropolitan region of 6 million inhabitants ever need something as silly as commuter rail?  (sarcastically speaking)Report


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