Despite setbacks, Atlanta’s big wheels keep turning
The buses were just beginning to roll into Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Games when the city was rear-ended with potentially bad news: some transit officials, who had earlier promised the Federal Transit Administration and city officials that they would loan buses for the Games, have put their plans into reverse, cutting contributions to the Olympic fleet.
At one point, more than 1,400 loaned buses were expected. Not anymore. Several cities, like Omaha, Neb., have promised to loan buses, but because of special escape clauses in their agreements, could pull out if their own new shipments do not arrive by the end of June.
And Houston, which committed to loan 55 buses, is still trying to find someone to subsidize overtime and maintenance costs for its reduced fleet back home.
Under special federal incentives, transit administrators across the country understood that they would be in a better position in the future to secure federal dollars for new buses if they shipped some to Atlanta for the 1996 Olympic Summer Games.
However, Chicago, according tO some local news reports, has reneged on its agreement to send 75 buses because Mayor Richard Daley says that Chicago commuters need them more than Olympic spectators.
Now, with less than 30 day, s remaining before more than 2 million people converge on the city, Olympic planners and city officials are beginning to worry about how well the Games’ transportation:fleet will function without about 400 of the promised buses.
Officials and planners with the Atlanta Committee for the Olympic Games (ACOG) have estimated that the minimum number of buses necessary to transport spectators is 1,000.
If the number of buses drops much below that, visitors to the city could expect lengthy delays throughout the two week event.
An International Showcase
In July 1995, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Federico Pena awarded two grants totaling $28 million to the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority (MARTA) and Olympic organizers to help facilitate local transportation during the Olympic Games.
The first grant, for $15 million, was earmarked for delivery, preparation, maintenance and return of a fleet of up to 2,000 buses.
A second grant, consisting of $13 million, is being matched by $3.25 million in local funds for the city’s new high-tech information system.
Despite the setback of a reduced fleet, the 1996 Olympic Games will provide an excellent opportunity to showcase to an international crowd a number of vehicle types powered by natural gas–the most environmentally acceptable and economical alternative fuel available, according to the American Gas Association (AGA), an official Olympic sponsor.
A diversity of natural gas-powered passenger cars, mini-vans, shuttle buses, pickup trucks and transit buses carrying spectators and cargo throughout the Olympic Games is expected to help demonstrate the advantages and flexibilities of the environmentally friendly fuel for fleet applications.
Natural gas, on a national average basis, costs about 70 cents to 90 cents for an energy-equivalent gallon, compared with gasoline prices of $1.20 to more than $1.60 per gallon for regular unleaded and about $ 1.45 for methanol. It also compares favorably with diesel fuel, which costs about $1.07 to $1.46 per gallon.
Areas that are currently using natural gas vehicles (NGVs) include:
* Airports. Denver International, which uses about 350 NGVs, and Los Angeles International are just two of the airports that make extensive use of NGVs of all sizes, including shuttle buses and baggage tugs.
Strict federal requirements on indoor air pollution have helped make natural gas-powered baggage tugs a logical choice for airport use.
Airport transportation companies have also increased their use of natural gas. For example, about 90 percent of the vans in the SuperShuttle fleet in Orange County, Calif., are now powered by natural gas;
* Tourist Shuttles. Because NGVs do not emit soot or exhaust, they are popular with operators of popular tourist attractions. Visitors to the restored historic area in Colonial Williamsburg, Va., travel on a new fleet of NGV shuttle buses donated by the CNG Foundation and fueled by Virginia Natural Gas, both subsidiaries of Consolidated Natural Gas. Natural gas shuttles are also used at NASA’s John F. Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Fla., and at the International Wildlife Park (Bronx Zoo) in New York;
* Police Departments. Police departments nationwide, including those in Peachtree City, Gal; Los Angeles; North Miami; and King County, Wash., are using natural gas patrol cars. Some of the cars are dual-fuel vehicles, which can operate on both natural gas and conventional gasoline.
Proven Safety Record. Aside from the advantage of offering clean and efficient transportation, NGVs are as safe or safer than vehicles powered by other fuels. A 1992 AGA survey of more than 8,000 fleet-based vehicles found that, in 278 million miles, the injury rates per vehicle mile traveled were 37 percent lower with NGVs than the rate for gasoline fleet vehicles and 34 percent lower than the rate for the entire population of registered gasoline vehicles.
Vehicles powered by natural gas, says the AGA, have such an excellent safety record for two reasons: the structural integrity of the NGV fuel system and the physical qualities of natural gas as a fuel.
The cylinders, or tanks, that hold compressed or liquefied natural gas are made of steel, composite materials or fiber-wrapped aluminum.
They are much thicker than conventional gasoline tanks.
NGV fuel cylinders are subjected to a number of “severe abuse” tests by the federal government, such as pressure extremes, heat extremes, collisions-fires and even gunshots.
Natural gas vehicles also feature “closed loop” fuel systems, a special design that helps prevent any spills or evaporative losses.
All this is good news to Olympic planners and city officials who are expecting nearly 11,000 athletes and more than 2 million dignitaries and visitors during the 17-day event.
The pollution solution
Marta likes to bill itself as the “pollution solution,” highlighting the compressed natural gas (CNG) buses, which have been added to its fleet to contribute to a cleaner environment.
CNG reduces carbon monoxide emissions by 95 percent, something the city, recently classified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as a “serious” air-quality non-attainment area, desperately needs. According to EPA, only 10 other cities have been classified with more severe air pollution problems than Atlanta.
The use of clean-fuel vehicles during the Olympic Games is part of a major commitment by ACOG to make the 1996 Games the most environmentally sound in history.
“This team effort, involving companies from coast to coast, will not only enhance air quality in Atlanta but will also promote public understanding of a clean-fuel technology that is working worldwide,” says Dennis Smith, president of the AGA Clean Air Team and director of NGV marketing at Atlanta Gas Light, a member of the Clean Air Team.
NGVs will also be showcased by other Olympic sponsors: 100 package delivery trucks (United Parcel Service) and 12 natural gas vans (BellSouth). Coca-Cola currently operates several NGVs at its world headquarters in Atlanta.
In addition to the NGVs, the ACGA Clean Air Team will use several specialty vehicles:
* PECO Energy “Neighborhood Center.” This motorcoach has been adapted for use by ACOG as a mobile command center for its transportation efforts.
It is equipped with two desktop (cellular) phones, two desktop computers, a printer and a fax machine.
On-board equipment includes bench seating for six, overhead storage cabinets, two desks with chairs, a natural gas generator with a 20-hour fuel supply and a heating/air conditioning system. An awning along the right side of the bus can shelter walk-up customers from the sun or rain;
* Eldora Coaches. Three 29-foot, 25-seat motor coaches are being provided to the Clean Air Team by Southern California Gas Co.
These coaches–which feature seats, a VCR with two television monitors, audio tapes and a wheelchair lift–will transport VIPs and other special guests in and around the Atlanta area;
* Refueling Trucks. Two refueling trucks will be used for emergency refueling inside the Olympic Ring, the downtown area that encompasses most of the venues. These trucks are in addition to the 30 natural gas fueling stations located throughout the Atlanta area.
Ten of these sites will be open to the public, another station will have limited public access, and 19 more will be operated privately.
The Fleet Facility
Under a partnership with the Atlanta Gas Light Company, MARTA built not only a CNG bus fleet but a bus maintenance facility and fueling facility to house it. Under the terms of the agreement, the company would design, build and operate the CNG refueling station at the site, and MARTA would purchase and maintain the CNG buses. Additionally, Atlanta Gas Light has agreed to supply MARTA with CNG fuel at prices that are comparable to that of diesel fuel.
The CNG facility is located on Perry Boulevard and employs between 500 people and 600 people. It will house a total of 200 CNG buses by the year 2000 and is the current home to 79 New Flyer CNG buses ordered for the Olympics.
All of the buses will be the low-floor variety, in keeping with MARTA’s goal of having a fully accessible bus fleet by the same year. Scheduled to operate on MARTA’s regular bus routes at the beginning of June, the CNG buses can be refueled in only nine minutes and can travel as many miles on a full tank of CNG as a diesel bus.
Additional features include seating for 40 passengers, 3,600 psi tank air pressure and lead/fire suppression systems for tanks and engines.
As MARTA tinkers with the idea of converting its entire bus fleet to CNG, 120 diesel-powered buses are also expected to be housed at the facility. More than 200 alternative fuel vehicles (including CNG buses) loaned from other states to help transport spectators to Olympic venues will also be located at the facility, which will eventually replace an outdated bus facility located nearby.
Designed by MARTA’s general engineering consultant. PB/T-TA and built by Beers Construction Co., the $14.5 million facility features CNG safety detectors and exhaust fans. It is the first MARTA bus facility to do without maintenance pits.
Based on nearly four years of research, 60 percent to 70 percent of worker’s compensation claims involved pits, according to MARTA’s Garage Operations. Lifts, manufactured by Advantage Lift Systems, San Diego, have been installed in all of the maintenance bays at the Perry Boulevard facility. The calculated sayings in worker’s comp claims alone is $500,000 over a 10-year period.
The facility has been referred to by city officials as a “green garage,” meaning that all environmental problems previously encountered have been addressed in the site design.
Another environmentally friendly approach to Atlanta’s Olympic fleet management comes from electric vehicle battery manufacturer Saft America, Valdosta, Gal, and electric bus manufacturer APS Systems, Oxnard, Calif. Both companies are providing 10 all-electric buses for use during the 1996 Summer Games.
Afterward, the buses will go to the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District, which already has six nickel, cadmium battery-powered buses in service. (In 1994, Santa Barbara experienced a 25 percent increase in range with the nickel cadmium batteries, up to 100 miles per charge, while increasing payload by 15percent.)
The vehicles are made of light, weight fiberglass composite materials, which increase both their range and the number of riders they can hold.
The buses have doors that are level to curbs and are handicapped accessible without lifts. All 10 of the buses used during the Games will have digital motor vector drives with two-string parallel nicad systems.
The Olympic-bound buses can carry a maximum of 37 passengers, are 26 feet long and can go 100 miles between charges. Technicians will be on hand during the 17-day event to support the fleet.
Columbus, Gal, Atlanta’s neighbor to the south, is host of the Fast Pitch Softball event. The venue is home to one of the most sophisticated public park and recreational systems in the country, but trying to accommodate the dozens of teams from around the world, as well as the thousands of visittors, proved a challenge.
Officials devised a plan to move as many as 25,000 people each day to and from the event on public transportation to avoid traffic jams and a lack of parking.
“To handle the transportation and parking needs of 25,000 people a day,” says Lisa Goodwin, assistant director for Columbus’s transit system, “we will have several “park and ride, areas strategically located around the city to carry people to the event.”
One of the main park and ride points is located in the Uptown riverfront area. The venue will be served by two American Heritage Streetcars, christened the Uptown Express, by Chance Coach, Wichita, Kan.
The trolleys were chosen for the Uptown area because “they enhance the picturesque appeal of turn-of-the-century Columbus and offer the city a friendly, fun image,” Goodwin says. “And, because they are heavy-duty buses, they can handle the high volume of passengers easily.”
The trolleys are also a focal point of the city’s “Hop-A-Trolley” campaign to encourage visitors and local citizens alike to leave their cars parked.
Because of the necessity of keeping the Olympic fleet on a controlled schedule during the Games, there will be several locations throughout the Atlanta area that the buses can go to for servicing, testing and maintenance. Some of these facilities (see map, p. 36) include:
LNG Storage Facility. The LNG Storage Facility, Riverdale, Ga., is a liquefied natural gas (LNG) peakshaving facility owned and operated by Atlanta Gas Light. Approximately 31 million gallons of LNG are stored at this location.
Gas is liquefied only during the summer months. The facility can liquefy 10 million cubic feet per day.
In addition to serving Atlanta Gas Light, the LNG facility also provides LNG for refuse trucks operated in North Georgia by BFI Inc.;
NGV Southeast Technology. An NGV conversion and showroom facility, NGV Southeast Technology, also in Riverdale, is jointly owned and operated by AGL, Southern Natural Gas Co. and California Cylinder Co.
Separate facilities for advanced technology emissions testing and for personnel training are also located on the property.
The conversion/showroom facility is a former automobile showroom that features the chassis and engine of a Blue Bird natural gas school bus, a dedicated Ford Crown Victoria sedan, a FuelMaker dispenser and a cutaway of a natural gas cylinder.
A full conversion shop is located behind the showroom.
Additionally, orientation and training for the approximately 115 volunteers who will be on hand to service and maintain the AGA Clean Air Team fleet of passenger cars, lightduty trucks and vans and transit buses will be conducted at the Southeast Technology facility.
Williams Detroit Diesel-Allison Maintenance Facility. This 64,000square-foot facility allows for maintenance and service on truck and bus engines and transmissions. It is one of 18 similar facilities operated un the country by the company.
The facility features 14 truck bays, plus an extensive state-of-the-art parts department. It can handle vehicle gasification including the installation of conversions.
LNG/LCNG Terminal. The 11acre facility, operated by ACOG with assistance from the AGA Clean Air Team, features wash bays, service bays and LNG/LCNG fueling facilities. A core team of full-time transit mechanics will be supplemented with mechanics familiar with natural gas and/or heavy-duty vehicles.
Atlanta Gas Light -Fleet Operations Center. The center is able to support 1,000 vehicles and is open from 7 a.m. until midnight. Additional hours can be added in the event of an emergency.
MARTA Bus Terminal (Perry Boulevard). This new, 24-acre fueling facility and outdoor garage for transit buses will be operated by MARTA.
The facility’s features include 20 maintenance bays, each with lifts, a four-lane wash rack and a compressor station with Gemini equipment. MARTA generally schedules buses for refueling in the early morning, between 5:30 a.m. and 6 a.m., and late at night, from 10:30 p.m. until 1:30 a.m. This schedule allows for ample time for the refueling of the AGA Clean Air Team buses.
Amoco Filling Stations. Ten Amoco filling stations located throughout the metropolitan Atlanta area will provide compressed natural gas. They will be used to refuel NGVs during the Olympic Games.
In addition to the existing natural gas dispensers, some of the Amoco stations will feature portable, engine-driven equipment from Hurricane Compressors, Franklin, Ind.
The world is coming to Atlanta. The clock is ticking quickly now, and Atlanta is in the midst of slightly controlled chaos. And even though it is reduced somewhat in number, the Olympic fleet, like the burning torch, is beginning to close in on the city.
The athletes, dignitaries and visitors–as well as Atlanta’s own citizens–will climb aboard buses, shuttles, vans and trolleys, intent on enjoying the Games.
And one way or another, the city that once survived Sherman will make sure they get around.