MARTA’s planned CNG bus buy highlights fiscal health, efforts to boost air quality

By David Pendered

In another indication of MARTA’s fiscal recovery and commitment to clean air, MARTA is in the process of purchasing up to 270 new 40-foot CNG buses.

MARTA bus, CNG, edit

MARTA expects to have all buses in its fleet fueled by compressed natural gas. Credit: MARTA

“Our goal is to eliminate the diesel fleet,” Joseph Erves, MARTA’s senior director of operations, said Monday. “Some of the new 270 buses will replace some of our old diesel buses and older CNG buses.”

MARTA intends to take delivery of the new buses over the next five years. They will be distributed system-wide, adding to the bus routes now served by CNG vehicles, Erves said. The first one could be on the streets as early as July 2017.

This is a major purchase for MARTA, which just three years ago was said to be bordering on insolvency. A management audit performed by KPMG in 2012 concluded: “MARTA’s current economic model is structurally unsustainable with costs projected to be greater than revenue for each year through 2021.”

Today, MARTA intends to fund the bus purchase with local funds. No federal funding is anticipated, Erves said. MARTA now has about 535 buses and about a third of the fleet was recently purchased at a cost of about $500,000 per bus.

MARTA now has two CNG fueling stations and is considering adding one near Atlanta’s airport around 2018, Erves said. Eventually, MARTA expects to be able to fuel CNG vehicles at all of its facilities. CNG vehicles store fuel in high-pressurized fuel cylinders at 3,000 to 3,600 pounds per square inch, according to cleanairchoice.org.

MARTA CNG fueling station

This CNG fueling station is designed to fill 200 buses in eight hours. Credit: playercompany.com

Erves said the planned purchase of buses conveys at least two positive points about MARTA.

“Financially, it indicates we’re doing a very good job about planning procurements; you don’t want to have to rely on an old fleet to provide services, with all the maintenance issues that involves,” he said. “Second, it does help us be green, for the environment. We want to do everything we can to reduce those pollutants.”

CNG, short for compressed natural gas, is comprised mainly of methane, according to the website of the trade organization cngnow.com. CNG vehicles produce substantially less of all regulated air pollutants than gas or diesel vehicles, and they can produce less carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, according to a website of an affiliate of the American Lung Association, cleanairchoice.org.

The current schedule calls for MARTA to sign a five-year contract with one or more bus providers in March 2016. In July 2016, MARTA expects to issue its first notice to proceed for the first new CNG bus. Testing is to last about 60 days. From 50 to 70 buses are to be delivered each year, according to the request for proposals.

Specifically, the RFP provides for the manufacture and delivery of 235 40-foot buses, with an option to purchase up to 35 additional 40-foot buses.

MARTA bus, CNG, 2

MARTA intends to purchase about 270 CNG buses over the next five years. Credit: MARTA

Responses are due Friday. Erves said the deadline may be extended to provide vendors additional time to sharpen their bids.

In a nod to the future, each bus is to be equipped with provisions for the future installation of a mobile ticketing system. A cloud-based system could reduce or eliminate the need for the Breeze card ticketing system.

One vendor, Masabi, has this to say on its website about its mobile ticketing system:

  • “Mobile ticketing allows customers to buy and display tickets on their smartphone. Masabi’s JustRide mTicket applications mean that waiting in line for tickets is a thing of the past for customers whilst agencies are able to drastically reduce the cost of their operations.”

Masabi says its clients include more than 22 transport operators and agencies around the world, including: “Virgin Trains, Abellio, Arriva, Thames Clippers, New Orleans RTA, Boston’s MBTA, Las Vegas, Transport for Athens, and New York’s MTA.”

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. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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