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Published: Tuesday, 6/15/2010

State awards TARTA $3.3M to upgrade fleet with 8 new biodiesel buses

BY DAVID PATCH
BLADE STAFF WRITER

The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority will receive a $3.3 million state grant to buy eight biodiesel-fueled buses as part of $15 million in statewide funding, the Ohio Department of Transportation has announced.

James Gee, TARTA's general manager, said the vehicles will replace 20-year-old vehicles in the transit authority's fleet when they are delivered late next year and will substantially reduce the agency's maintenance expenses.

"We are saving money by using biodiesel," Mr. Gee said. "It gives us lower maintenance costs because it is a cleaner fuel that leaves lower engine deposits."

"Never before has ODOT made this type of direct investment in our state's transit agencies to bolster our commitment to promoting travel choice and cleaning the air we breathe," Jolene Molitoris, ODOT's director, said in a statement announcing the grants to TARTA and 10 other transit agencies across Ohio.

The TARTA grant is the largest from the Clean and Green Transit Program that the state legislature approved in the 2010-11 state transportation budget last year.

TARTA still must get the money from ODOT, then solicit bids or identify another agency with which it can buy the vehicles cooperatively, Mr. Gee said. Consequently, the order for the buses may not be placed until late this year, and delivery time is likely to be a year after that.

The transit authority's fleet comprises 223 vehicles, including 74 minibuses, 116 35-foot buses, and 33 40-foot buses. Mr. Gee said the new buses would be in the 30-to-35-foot range with seating for 30 or 31 passengers, depending on which model is chosen. They would replace buses that generally have about 600,000 miles on their odometers, he said.

During recent meetings at which TARTA's proposal to replace its property tax with a sales tax have been discussed, Mr. Gee has cited among reasons the transit authority needs a resulting $8 million increase in revenue is a budget that is so tight, it no longer can afford the local match for federal grants to pay for new vehicles - though last year the agency ordered 21 new mini-buses and 18 new 35-footers.

The Clean and Green Transit Program buses will all be 100 percent paid for by the state, Mr. Gee said, "which is great for our operating budget."

TARTA buys all its biodiesel from northwest Ohio suppliers, he said. It is 20 percent soybean oil mixed with regular diesel fuel, and powers nearly all the agency's full-sized buses.

Minibus engines can only use biodiesel with a maximum of 5 percent vegetable oil, Mr. Gee said, so for now, TARTA is using regular diesel fuel in those vehicles.

Of the 41 buses to be purchased statewide under the ODOT grant, only six others - for the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in Canton - will be biodiesel vehicles, while 17 will be electric-diesel hybrids. The rest will run on straight diesel fuel.

Mr. Gee said the $150,000 additional cost for electric-diesel hybrids guided TARTA's preference for biodiesel over the hybrid technology.

Contact David Patch at:

dpatch@theblade.com

or 419-724-6094.



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