IT remains at forefront of 'green' frontier

Intercity Transit celebrated Earth Day last week with community notice that the first of six hybrid diesel-electric buses are on the assembly line. South Sound residents can thank Congress and the stimulus package for the fuel-efficient buses, which will replace the oldest vehicles in Intercity Transit’s 100-vehicle fleet.

The $2.3 million allocated for the buses in Congress’ American Recovery and Reinvestment Act will cover a majority of each bus’ $575,000 price tag.

While that cost is more than the cost of conventional buses, transit officials said they will recoup the money with fuel savings achieved over the life of the vehicle.

And that doesn’t factor in the benefits of improved air quality and public health, which are additional reasons to move toward hybrids.

Thurston County residents are fortunate to have environmentally conscious public servants running the local transit system which provided more than 5 million rides last year — on conventional buses, in van pools, dial-a-lift and other transit services.

The hybrid buses are just part of Intercity Transit impressive efforts to lesson the agency’s carbon footprint.

General Manager Mike Harbour and his staff are well aware that transportation contributes 68 percent of the harmful emissions that add to global warming in this state. Every hybrid bus, every accommodation for electric vehicles, every van pool rider and bicyclist reduces carbon emissions and is better for the planet.

Hybrid buses, for example, use less fuel, produce lower emissions, and are likely to require less maintenance and have a long operational life cycle, according to Meg Kester, Intercity Transit spokeswoman. “The hybrid buses are also smooth-riding, produce less diesel odor, and are quieter for passengers and the neighborhoods they travel through.”

She said each hybrid bus will burn 25 percent less fuel than a conventional coach. That’s a big deal, especially at times of high fuel prices like last summer when local gasoline prices peaked at $4.50 a gallon.

Tom Green, chair of the Intercity Transit Authority praised Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Reps. Brian Baird and Adam Smith for their efforts on behalf of the transportation agency. “Use of hybrid buses is one more way the public transportation industry can model environmental stewardship,” Green said.

The soon-to-arrive hybrids are simply the latest in a long list of environmentally friendly actions put in place by the Intercity Transit Authority and staff.

Years ago, IT installed plug-in stations for electric cars at its headquarters office on Pattison Street. Two stations, intended for use by both employees of and visitors to Intercity Transit, accommodate multiple electric plug-ins at any given time. Intercity Transit was the ninth South Sound entity to provide public electric car charging stations.

Every year the transit authority supports the Bicycle Commuter Contest during the month of May — an effort to get people out of their vehicles and onto a bicycle seat as an efficient, and healthful, mode of transportation. A year ago, about 1,500 Thurston County cyclists commuted by bike to work and school, logging 104,000 miles and saving an estimated 92,000 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in the single month.

Additionally, in 2002 Intercity Transit was the first transit system in the Northwest to operate its bus fleet on green, clean biodiesel fuel. In the first five years, IT buses consumed more than 2.3 million gallons of biodiesel without any negative effects to engine operation, fuel consumption or vehicle performance and reduced harmful carbon emissions by an estimated 2.2 million pounds, Kester said.

Intercity Transit’s strong environmental ethic extends beyond the roadways of South Sound. For example, the agency recycles water to wash buses, uses re-refined motor oils in all buses, recaps all rear bus tires to extend the life of tire casings and recycles most office waste including paper, cardboard, fluorescent lamps, batteries and metal.

Kester notes with pride that the Olympia-based transit system has received local, state and national awards for its sustainable efforts.

Transit officials and this community can take great pride in those environmentally friendly accomplishments.