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Saving money; saving the world 08/23/12

<p>Dave Wells, lead mechanic for Grays Harbor Transit, points out the exhaust system&#8217;s diesel exhaust fluid, which begins a chemical reaction to convert exhaust to harmless nitrogen gas and water vapor. Exhaust particles are incinerated and filtered out before the scrubbed gas vents out. Transit received three new busses, each equipped with the latest in clean diesel technology.</p>Buy Photo

Dave Wells, lead mechanic for Grays Harbor Transit, points out the exhaust system’s diesel exhaust fluid, which begins a chemical reaction to convert exhaust to harmless nitrogen gas and water vapor. Exhaust particles are incinerated and filtered out before the scrubbed gas vents out. Transit received three new busses, each equipped with the latest in clean diesel technology.

<p>Dave Wells, lead mechanic for Grays Harbor Transit, points out the exhaust system&#8217;s ash collection container. Exhaust particles are incinerated and filtered out before the scrubbed gas vents out. Transit received three new busses, each equipped with the latest in clean diesel technology.</p>Buy Photo

Dave Wells, lead mechanic for Grays Harbor Transit, points out the exhaust system’s ash collection container. Exhaust particles are incinerated and filtered out before the scrubbed gas vents out. Transit received three new busses, each equipped with the latest in clean diesel technology.

<p>The new clean diesel equipped busses sport a fan-shaped exhaust.</p>Buy Photo

The new clean diesel equipped busses sport a fan-shaped exhaust.

You’ll never see black smoke belching out the exhaust of Grays Harbor Transit’s new busses. The three new busses are equipped with the latest in clean diesel technology. Most of the treatment system is hidden in the innards of the vehicles, but there’s a funny, fan-shaped tailpipe on the back-end roof that gives it away.

The diesel exhaust first goes through a spray of diesel exhaust fluid (a mixture of urea and water) to begin a chemical reaction converting it into harmless nitrogen gas and water vapor. Particulates are then removed by running the exhaust through a super-heated burner that burns them into a fine ash that’s filtered out in a large canister (kind of like a fancy bagless vacuum cleaner).

The exhaust that comes out is around 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit, hence the funny fan-shaped exhaust. The burning only happens while the bus is driving down the road and its all computer-controlled so the driver doesn’t have to do anything different.

It’s not new technology; the systems are common in Europe and on most new passenger diesels. New federal regulations in the U.S. now mandate the technology.

“That’s why you’ll never see this bus emitting black smoke,” said Dave Wells, head mechanic for Grays Harbor Transit as he explained the components of the new busses’ exhaust system.

The new busses are 35-foot, low-floor coaches — the kind passengers don’t have to climb stairs to board — that are part of the system’s ongoing replacement schedule. The big busses have a typical urban lifespan of 12 years, but with stringent maintenance and a drivetrain replacement at 400,000 miles, Grays Harbor Transit safely gets 20-plus years out of its busses, General Manager Mark Carlin said.

Part of the service is a daily, sometimes twice daily, thorough cleaning for each bus. It also helps insure that the ride is a clean and pleasant experience for passengers, he said.

“Nobody likes a dirty bus,” he said.

Safety is also an important consideration with public transit. Grays Harbor Transit has avoided driving related injuries throughout its 37-year history. Although rural Grays Harbor doesn’t have the rider violence that has plagued some urban transit systems, multiple video cameras are standard on all busses and transit stations, Carlin said.

The six-camera system, in addition to being a crime or bad behavior deterrent, helps in the event of an accident, which also are rare, Carlin said.

“We know exactly what happened,” he said.

The new busses were paid with by $1.7 million in state grants. In addition to meeting the new, more stringent federal emissions laws, they have the advantage of being more fuel efficient than the oldest busses in the fleet.

Depending on the route driven, the oldest bus — a 1991 coach still bearing the old brown and gold color scheme — gets less than 5 miles per gallon. The new coaches top that by up to 2 mpg. That doesn’t sound like much, but for a rural system the miles and fuel savings really add up, Carlin said.

With routes stretching from Quinault to Westport, Ocean Shores, Hoquiam and Aberdeen, Oakville and East County and Olympia, its easy to see how the miles add up. To serve the nearly 1 million riders a year (each trip counts as a ride) on the fixed route system, Transit needs to go where people need to get when they need to get there. That means starting early in the morning and getting to as much of the county as possible.

Busses also are equipped with bike racks, so people who live further away from the routes can ride, and the transit stations in Aberdeen and Hoquiam have ample space for people to park and ride. A countywide point-to-point dial-a-ride service is available for people with qualifying disabilities who can’t otherwise use the fixed route service and all riders in the Westport, Ocean Shores, Montesano and Elma areas may contact dial-a-ride for a lift to and from a fixed route.

“It’s a very important service,” Carlin said. Dial-a-ride is used for some 50,000 rides each year to fixed routes, plus more than 56,000 rides a year are made via the dial-a-ride service for folks with disabilities.

Grays Harbor Transit is scheduled to receive four new paratransit vans this month, which are used to augment the fixed route service with the dial-a-ride and special van transports.

In addition to providing a vital transportation service, Grays Harbor Transit can provide a financial savings to riders in a time of escalating gasoline prices, expected to top $4 this year.

“The cost savings are astronomical,” Carlin said. The general in-county fare is $1. Youths, seniors and those with disabilities pay 50 cents. The general fare to Olympia is just $3, $2.50 for youths and $2 for seniors. A sedan getting 30 miles per gallon at $4 per gallon would cost $6 for the same trip.

Regular commuters can save just as much with even greater convenience by participating in a van pool. Would-be participants sign up to share a regular van and split the costs. For a typical Montesano to Olympia commute, the savings per person can add up to $400 per month, participants said.

There are 20 current van pool groups, up from 17 last year. Combined, they count for nearly 100,000 trips per year. Even niftier, is the connection to other regional transit systems. It’s possible to travel to Portland, Ore., Seattle and beyond solely on public transportation; just visit maps.google.com and click the buttons for “get directions” and the transit icon.

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