Transportation headlines, Wednesday, May 29

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

The Natural Gas Alliance has a new video urging transit agencies to convert their bus fleets from diesel fuel to natural gas. And guess who the group uses as an example? Metro, which has converted its entire fleet of 2,000-plus buses to natural gas, which pollutes far less than diesel.

Who should join Garcetti on the Metro Board of Directors? (L.A. Streetsblog) 

Editor Damien Newton says that Mayor-Elect Garcetti should appoint Los Angeles Councilman-elect Mike Bonin, soon-to-be former Councilwoman Jan Perry and Los Angeles Department of Transportation chief Jaime de la Vegas to the Metro Board. Not exactly a radical selection, but Damien explains that politics, experience and competence were his criteria.

One nitpick: the post says that the battle over the subway route will be a “heated one.” The route for the Purple Line Extension, however, has been selected and finalized. In an attempt to change the route in the Century City area, the Beverly Hills City Council and Beverly Hills Unified School District has filed a total of four lawsuits challenging the project’s environmental studies. But a court victory for them — far from certain — would only mean that Metro may have to re-do part of the environmental document. It doesn’t mean the route would have to change.

Bullet train’s risk of cost over-runs reduced, rail chief says (L.A. Times) 

Dan Richards, the Board Chair of the California High-Speed Rail Authority, testifies at a hearing by long-time project critic Rep. Jeff Denham (R-Atwater). Richards says he thinks better controls are in place to keep the $68-billion project on budget but can’t guarantee that costs might go up. Meanwhile, local officials in the San Joaquin Valley say that many farmers will refuse to sell land needed to build the first 130-mile segment.

Long Beach’s Blue Line TOD comes with big parking garage (Curbed LA)

The 129-unit apartment and retail project will be five stories tall and adjacent to the Anaheim station. The building also comes with a five-story parking garage that will allow residents to park on the same level as their unit. Interesting.

Other actions taken today by the Metro Board of Directors: contract to buy new buses, TVMs for El Monte Station

Here are a few other items of interest tackled at today’s meeting of the full Metro Board of Directors:

•The Board approved a $302-million contract with New Flyer of America for the purchase of 550 new 40-foot buses powered by compressed natural gas. Staff report (pdf)

•The Board approved a contract modification up to $610,000 with Cubic Transportation Systems for the purchase and installation of four ticket vending machines for the El Monte Transit Center. Staff report (pdf)

•The Board approved a series of contract modifications totaling about $13.5 million with outside firms, including URS Corporation, for continued work on the I-710 South Corridor Project’s environmental studies. Staff report (pdf)

•The Board approved giving Metro the authority to enter into an exclusive negotiating agreement with three developers seeking to build a mixed-use project that would partially occupy Metro-owned land adjacent to the Red Line’s Vermont/Sunset Station. Staff report (pdf)

Metro staff proposes buying 550 new 40-foot CNG buses

New Bus Purchase staff report by

Metro buses rack up a lot of miles and need to be replaced at regular intervals. The above Metro staff report proposes the purchase of 550 40-foot buses powered by compressed natural gas from New Flyer, which is based in Winnipeg and has manufacturing facilities in Minnesota.

It’s a big contract, valued at $302 million — about $549,000 per bus. The buses will be replacing vehicles that have been in service for at least 12 years and have more than 500,000 miles on them.

How do they do that? Refuel a bus with CNG

How do they do that? is a series for The Source that explores the technology that helps keep Metro running and passengers and other commuters moving. Some of it applies directly to the trains, buses and freeways and some of it runs in the background — invisible to nearly everyone but essential to mobility in our region.

How do they refuel a CNG bus?

You can’t just pull into Costco to fill up a compressed natural gas (CNG) bus. When Metro began shifting its fleet of diesel buses to CNG, special stations had to be constructed at each of Metro’s 11 bus maintenance facilities to refuel Metro’s 2,200 buses that run not on gasoline but on gas.

With the retirement in January, 2011 of Metro’s last diesel bus the conversion was complete, making Metro the first major transit agency in the world to operate only alternative clean-fueled buses. Further, CNG is American produced, meaning that Metro is not dependent on fluctuating and unstable foreign oil supplies.

To refuel, a bus pulls up to a service bay and hooks up to a dispenser that looks something like a gas pump, with a hose and a nozzle that mates to the bus. A service attendant attaches the nozzle that automatically locks on during fueling. The nozzle is connected to a tube that carries the gas from a compressor housed nearby in a sound deadening compartment. The natural gas is compressed to 3,600 pounds per square inch as it is dispensed into the bus using a large electric motor or engine driven compressors.

The fueling system incorporates several safety features to prevent fire or explosion. Smoking is not allowed near the stations and all electrical systems are sealed to prevent sparks. CNG is only flammable if mixed with the correct ratio of air so the fuel in the cylinders in each bus is not explosive. Buses hold roughly from 17,000 standard cubic feet of gas (for a 40-foot bus) to 27,000 (for an articulated bus) and take only a few minutes to fuel.

CNG costs roughly $1.50 per diesel gallon equivalent, including compression and dispensing costs. This is less per gallon than diesel but cost is not the reason for the conversion to CNG. In fact, CNG buses cost about 10 to 15 percent more to operate than standard diesel engine buses, largely because of increased maintenance costs. But the move to clean air vehicles, ordered by Metro’s Board of Directors in 1993, was decided because the health benefits of running a clean-air fleet are immeasurable.

Compared with diesel buses, Metro’s CNG fleet reduces cancer-causing particulate matter by more than 80 percent. And because of the switch from diesel to CNG, Metro avoids emitting nearly 300,000 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per day.