The city of Lodi recently secured nearly $800,000 to dramatically increase its use of natural gas buses for the city's GrapeLine and Dial-A-Ride services.
The city will use the money to buy 10 natural gas-powered buses and improve the city's natural gas fueling station, Transportation Manager Tiffani Fink said. Once all the new buses have been purchased, the city's transit service will be completely powered by natural gas.
Lodi's use of natural gas buses will help fight air pollution in the San Joaquin Valley, a county air quality district representative said.
The city will receive $600,000 to purchase the vehicles, half of which will replace older ones and the other half will be new. When the city has all the vehicles, perhaps by the summer of 2007, it will have a city transit system totally powered by natural gas.
"We were very happy to receive the funding," Fink said.
The San Joaquin Council of Governments allocated the money, which is awarded through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality Program, a component of the Federal Transportation Improvement Program.
While the new buses won't directly save the city money, Anthony Presto, public education representative for the northern region of the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District, said Lodi's buses are crucial for a region that has some of the worst air pollution in the nation.
"The air district always supports moves like this because this is definitely a move in the right direction," he said.
Air quality in the San Joaquin Valley is currently ranked behind the Los Angeles area as the worst in the nation, Presto said.
If more cities switched to natural gas buses, and more people started riding those buses, it would help curb the emission of pollutants, he said.
"Now the thing to do is to get those buses full of riders. (Lodi) is providing a great example for others to follow."
With that example we hope to see more people switching from older cars or SUVs to more fuelefficient vehicles or hybrids."
Because ozone gasses flow from one region to another, Presto said what people do in Lodi affects the air quality in the rest of the Central Valley.
Even though the Lodi projects have been earmarked for funding, Fink said the federal government still needs to sign off on the new buses. The city has received approval for the compressor and will be seeking bids for the project soon.
Funding for that project amounted to $176,000. Fink said the added vehicles will create a need for more fueling capacity at the Municipal Service Center, and with two compressors the city can now shut one down for repairs but still have the other to fuel vehicles.
Natural gas costs about the same -- if not a little more expensive -- as gasoline or diesel fuel, so it offers minimal advantages in terms of cost. But it does emit far less amounts of the dangerous toxins that standard fuels do.
However, Fink said the city saves some money purchasing natural gas because it has its own fueling station and can therefore buy directly from PG&E.
Lodi should receive the funds for five buses in the upcoming fiscal year, and the other five in the next. The first buses should be purchased by next summer.
"That would be our hope," Fink said. "It can take eight months, it can take a year."
When the city has all its new vehicles for a total of 25, it can use older buses that can be used as a reserve fleet, she said.
Other projects funded this year through the San Joaquin Council of Governments include almost $15.5 million for the San Joaquin Regional Transit District for replacement hybrid diesel-electric buses and $3.5 million for the San Joaquin Regional Rail Commission to purchase of a commuter rail car.
Contact reporter Andrew Adams at email@example.com.