February 16, 2009
CTTRANSIT: Becoming More Responsible Environmental Stewards
By DAVID A. LEE
Connecticut Transit (CTTRANSIT) is proud of its experience with technologies that directly advance our mission to be responsible environmental stewards and efficient energy consumers. We helped pioneer the deployment of solar voltaic technology that converts sunlight into electricity: the array on the roof of our Hartford operating facility was at one time the largest in Connecticut.
CTTRANSIT conducted the definitive scientific study of hybrid-electric buses in conjunction with the Connecticut Academy of Science and Engineering and the University of Connecticut. That research demonstrated conclusively the energy efficiency and cost effectiveness of hybrid technology for buses.
More recently, we have operated one of only four hydrogen fuel cell buses in the United States, with five more to be delivered in 2010. The hydrogen fuel cell bus is a true zero-emission vehicle; the only carbon footprint from wellhead to tailpipe is from the truck used to haul liquid hydrogen from Niagara Falls to the United Technologies fueling station in South Windsor, CT. Unit for unit, the fuel cell bus is twice as energy-efficient as conventionally fueled vehicles.
Public transit has always had some difficulty embracing new technologies. We’ve all known managers who lived by the motto, “Don’t fix it if it ain’t broke.” We’ve also all known managers—maybe ourselves on occasion—who lament that new equipment doesn’t work exactly the way the salesman promised. Many are reluctant to volunteer their transit systems to be the guinea pigs for new, but unproven, technologies. In what seems to be a never-ending era of scarce resources, investment in new technology competes with the necessity to maintain existing services and infrastructure.
And yet, there can be no question that technological advance has been a powerful transformative force in our industry. The idea of a low floor bus was once the holy grail to ease boarding and alighting for all passengers and replace expensive, difficult-to-maintain wheelchair lifts with a simple ramp. Alternative fuels, including compressed natural gas and biodiesel, have become commonplace. Sophisticated scheduling software has enabled a new generation of transit planners to cut runs and assign vehicles with maximum efficiency.
Customers tell us over and over that their holy grail—easily accessed, real-time information on bus service—is now state-of-the-art. Web sites have become a universal sales booth, as well as our means of providing instantaneous communication with customers throughout the region.
Embracing technological progress in the years to come will challenge our ability to make resources available. Government and industry must provide resources for research and development; transit systems must develop expertise at all levels to manage and maintain new technologies; and decision-makers must be willing to budget resources for demonstrating experimental new systems and equipment, as well as to deploy proven new technologies.