Zero-emissions bus comes to Macon streets

jgaines@macon.comMarch 14, 2013 

The Macon Transit Authority introduced its first zero-emission diesel bus Thursday afternoon, as about 40 people gathered in front of the transit authority’s Terminal Station headquarters to watch.

“Bring on the bus,” said Sam Hart, chairman of both the Bibb County Commission and the Middle Georgia Clean Air Coalition. The coalition paid 80 percent of the vehicle’s cost.

Moments later, the bus came up Fifth Street, preceded by a Macon police car with its lights and siren on. The bus driver parked it behind the lectern.

The new bus, an International model, runs on low-sulfur diesel, said Mike Westbrooks, the transit authority’s superintendent of maintenance.

“That is the way of the future,” he said. When the Environmental Protection Agency tested the engine in 2010, it ran so cleanly that it wasn’t required to be altered for three years, Westbrooks said.

Rick Jones, the authority’s general manager, said the clean-running bus cost between $120,000 and $130,000. The previous generation of similar-style buses with Chevrolet Duramax diesel engines cost $106,000, but they’re no longer made, he said.

The new bus will run on several routes, and the transit authority plans to buy more of them as this year’s capital-purchase grants come in, Jones said.

“We hope to have a whole fleet of them before it’s over,” he said.

When Jones became transit authority general manager in July 2009, the agency’s old smog-spewing buses were part of the local air pollution problem, he said. The big buses gradually have been replaced with “cutaway” style buses, which hold about the same number of passengers but cost one-third as much and are three times more fuel-efficient, he said.

In 2009 the transit authority spent $1 million on fuel, Jones said. Despite substantial increases of diesel prices, the transit authority will spend just $800,000 this year, he said.

Hart said the clean air coalition, which is celebrating 10 years of work, has made substantial progress because the seven counties and 13 cities involved have worked as a unit.

Ned Sanders, a former Houston County Commission chairman who is head of the coalition’s alternative fuels committee, said the Middle Georgia region was on the verge of exceeding federal standards for air pollution when the coalition began its work.

“Instead of waiting for the federal government to bang us over the head with a bat, we decided to go ahead and show we could do something,” he said. The group lobbied for $4 million in federal funding, and that money is now being put to use, Sanders said.

To contact writer Jim Gaines call 744-4489.

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