Buses spewing clouds of black smoke will become a less familiar sight in Pinellas County over the next several weeks.
The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority recently purchased 27 buses with a new exhaust system that promises to reduce particulate emissions more than 90 percent compared to older models.
The new buses will conform to the Environmental Protection Agency's emissions standards for new diesel engines that went into effect in 2007.
The new technology, called Active Diesel Particulate Filters, traps soot and particles in a special filter. As particulates build up on the element, a sensor detects the back pressure, which directs the engine to inject a small amount of fuel into the chamber, incinerating the particles. The DPF system is so clean that exhaust pipes show no buildup of soot, even after several thousand miles of operation, according to a PSTA news release.
Bob Lasher, the PSTA community relations manager, said the new buses replace those already at the end of their 12-year usable life cycle. Federal regulations allow bus replacement after 500,000 miles or 12 years of service, and federal grants will pay for the new vehicles, which cost about $328,000 each.
Lasher said PSTA already has 21 of the new buses on the road and will customize the remaining six for the Suncoast Beach trolley routes. The new trolleys will begin service within the next few weeks.
"Our residents along the beaches should appreciate them since they are quieter than the old trolleys," he said.
Gillig Corp. in Hayward, Calif., manufactures the new buses. Brian MacLeod, a company spokesman, said the new buses significantly reduce pollution, with only a minimal effect on fuel mileage.
"The DPF system may have a slight effect on fuel economy, but I don't think it's even a measurable amount," he said.
PSTA operates 205 vehicles. As the buses age, the transit authority also will replace them with vehicles utilizing the new emission systems.
Lasher said ideally PSTA would retrofit the new technology onto the older buses, but with the transit authority facing a 10 percent budget cut, the money simply isn't there.
"People tend to think government agencies have a lot of pork. We simply didn't have it and now we are cutting to the bone," he said.
Lasher said even with the old exhaust systems, mass transit provides a much more environmentally friendly way to get around.
Utilizing buses creates 95 percent less carbon monoxide and half the carbon dioxide per passenger mile traveled when compared to single passenger vehicles, according to the American Public Transportation Association.
PSTA boasts a ridership of more than 11.7-million passengers per year.
Michael Maharrey can be reached at (727) 893-8779 or firstname.lastname@example.org.