Categories: Letters

Letters: Focus should be on making Muni service better

As other cities lead electric charge, San Francisco expands diesel fleet,” Green Space, Sept. 13
Focus should be on making Muni service better

Muni’s transit system is the cornerstone of The City’s environmentally sustainable transportation system and is one of the greenest in the world. Despite providing more than 700,000 trips a day, it is only responsible for 2 percent of the greenhouse gas emissions in The City. San Francisco’s transportation sector generates approximately 46 percent of The City’s total emissions, and more than 90 percent of that comes from personal and commercial vehicles like cars and trucks.

The focus shouldn’t be simply on how fast can we move to all-electric buses, it should be on making Muni service even better, so even more people ride it. This is why we are working so hard to put new and cleaner vehicles into service, because at the end of the day, attracting more people to transit will have the greatest impact on reducing greenhouse gas emissions in San Francisco.

Of course, we want to provide excellent transit service, but we are also doing our part to make the world a better place. Not mentioned in the column is the fact that more than 50 percent of the transit fleet, including light-rail, cable cars, historic streetcars and electric trolley buses are largely powered by greenhouse gas-free Hetch Hetchy hydropower. Beyond that, our new electric hybrid buses use 100 percent renewable fuel, which is developed from low-carbon intensity feedstock sources. This eliminates greenhouse gas emissions and petroleum fuel and saves a million gallons of fuel each year. In fact, Muni has the lowest per-passenger emissions of any multimodal transit agency fleet in California, according to the California Air Resources Board. Also, when electric technology is ready, we can upgrade buses within our new electric hybrid bus fleet to run completely on battery power.

We are excited about the possibility that one day we will be able to provide an all-electric fleet that won’t require overhead wires. This is why we have been and will continue to take steps to test these vehicles on some of our smaller community routes through potential grant funds. However, it is factually incorrect and irresponsible to suggest that anyone knows that off-wire electric buses are ready to operate in San Francisco.

Despite what marketing departments at some of the electric bus manufacturers claim, there isn’t a bus manufacturer that can produce the number of electric buses San Francisco would need, nor would they be able to guarantee that the vehicles would work for the required 15 years with our heavy ridership and steep hills. The technology is just getting started. In fact, there are less than 200 electric buses operating in the United States.

Some cities might just now be purchasing off-wire electric vehicles, but anyone familiar with San Francisco and Muni service can tell you that we have the largest electric bus fleet in the United States (more than 250). Electric trolley buses carry our heaviest loads on some of our most demanding routes. We’ve been a pioneer in the electric vehicle industry for years and we are going to continue that trend of providing a fleet that is meant to provide safe and clean service for everyone.

John Haley
Director of SFMTA Transit Operations

Setting the record straight on diesel in San Francisco
San Francisco Muni should be applauded, not reprimanded, for its choice of clean diesel technology in its transit buses.

Robyn Purchia’s commentary dismisses the judgment of seasoned transit fleet management professionals and is based on the false premise that somehow San Francisco is falling behind because of their transportation technology choice, all the while embracing electric bus manufacturer marketing. Of course, electric vehicles are cheaper, with millions of dollars in public subsidies. Are they cheaper after that? It shows just how superficial things have become.

The primary mission of public transportation agencies is to provide accessible, affordable and reliable transportation to the most citizens possible. That’s why still today that the majority of new transit bus investments around the country are the new generation of clean diesel technology. It delivers the greatest value, reliability and performance.

The Health Effects Institute says the emissions from the new generation of clean diesel engines are near zero. More emissions from the Muni bus fleet can be eliminated at the lowest cost by accelerating the turnover of the oldest buses with new clean diesel technology.

According to the San Francisco Clean Cities Coalition, the SFMTA uses 100 percent renewable diesel fuel in its fleet of about 1,000 buses. The U.S. EPA and California Air Resources Board consider renewable diesel fuel an advanced biofuel, which can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by upwards of 80 percent, along with significant particulate (PM) and oxides of nitrogen (NOx) emission reductions. SFMTA’s use of this fuel in diesel-powered buses, plus its deployment of hybrid-electric buses (also fueled with renewable diesel), has displaced more than 8.5 million gallons of gasoline equivalent and reduced San Francisco’s emissions by more than 76,000 tons, equivalent to annual emissions of more than 16,000 passenger vehicles.

San Francisco already has electric buses in the form of the trolley system that has served The City for 125 years. Public transportation systems — especially the bus network — are expected to be able to do more as a key asset to The City, such as in any mass evacuations from earthquakes or other events that might disrupt electrical and gas supplies. Where will the power come from then?

There is more than one shade of green, and public transportation has and continues to make important strides in these areas. They can be “clean and green” without going all electric.

Allen Schaeffer
Director of the Diesel Technology Forum

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