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TriMet stays innovative

MY VIEW • Even older buses are upgraded for added efficiency
by: JIM CLARK, TriMet General Manager Fred Hansen credits the agency’s maintenance crews with keeping its many buses in good shape and adding to fuel efficiency.

TriMet's buses and MAX help the region address global warming and protect our communities and quality of life. In response to 'TriMet needs fresher fleet' (My View, March 18), I'd like to clarify what we have done to make our bus fleet one of the most innovative and efficient in the country and share our plans for expansion.

Our maintenance crews work around the clock to make our 533 rush-hour buses ready for riders. I believe their efforts have made TriMet No. 1 in the nation for the distance between breakdowns.

A typical transit agency will require a replacement bus out in the field about every 4,000 miles. TriMet averages one about every 18,000 miles, and our Powell Garage mechanics just achieved more than 29,000 miles between breakdowns - a tremendous feat that keeps buses moving.

TriMet buses also are some of the most fuel-efficient in the country.

• In 2005, maintenance crews began boosting fuel efficiency by adjusting transmissions, front-end alignments and steering control arms, and maintaining a set tire pressure. This saves about 500,000 gallons of fuel per year.

• TriMet is the nation's first transit agency to test and operate buses cooled by a NASCAR-inspired system, resulting in nearly a 4 percent better fuel economy.

• About one-third of our fleet is being retrofitted with particulate traps that eliminate 90 percent of smoke emissions, making these buses run much cleaner than required by the Environmental Protection Agency for its model year. Emissions are reduced to levels comparable to brand-new models.

The average age of our fleet is around 10 years, and the federal government requires us to keep them at least 12 years. Over the next five years, we are buying 40 new buses annually and retiring older buses.

The new buses feature low floors for easy boarding, air conditioning, security cameras and automatic stop announcements. They also reduce smog emissions by about 80 percent over the buses they replace.

Another issue raised in the opinion piece was the call for buying more hybrid buses and articulated buses.

While King County Metro in Seattle has purchased more than 250 hybrids, we have found that our two hybrids have not performed as hoped. They have an average fuel savings only about 8 percent better than our regular diesel buses but at an increased cost of 50 percent, or $200,000, over the price of a nonhybrid bus.

With our innovative attention to buses, we believe our new buses will achieve nearly the same efficiency as our existing hybrids at a fraction of the cost. And this technology can be retrofitted to our existing fleet, rather than waiting for a new bus purchase.

Our 93 bus routes include 16 frequent-service lines that operate at least every 15 minutes much of the day, every day. Those frequent-service lines carry 57 percent of bus riders.

Should we be using longer, articulated buses to carry these riders? Articulated buses work well in cities like Seattle where they carry people from the suburbs on freeways to the city core. In Portland, we rely on MAX light rail for this type of high-capacity service.

A 60-foot articulated bus is difficult to maneuver around tight corners and would not be a good fit for most of our high-use routes.

Our bus ridership continues to grow - up nearly 4 percent in February compared to the same month in 2007, climbing to nearly 215,000 trips on an average weekday.

Each day, TriMet bus and MAX service eliminates nearly 202,000 car trips. That means 4.2 tons of smog-forming pollutants are prevented, 60,000 gallons of fuel are conserved, and more than 540 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions are avoided each and every weekday.

With a blend of 5 percent (B5) biodiesel and cleaner, ultralow-sulfur diesel, our fleet is further reducing emissions and its carbon footprint. And we're experimenting with B10 and B20 to further our environmental stewardship.

We continue to make our bus fleet a leader in the industry, and are always looking for new ways to make it more environmentally friendly. Take a ride and see for yourself.

Fred Hansen is general manager of TriMet. He lives in Northwest Portland and rides the No. 17 bus to and from work.