New Orleans RTA secures grant for 19 new biodiesel-powered buses

    Originally posted by Jessica Williams | December 2, 2019 | The New Orleans Advocate | Original Article

    A new fleet of buses will soon be rolling along the streets of New Orleans.

    The Regional Transit Authority has been awarded a $7.2 million federal grant to buy 19 new 35-foot buses, the agency announced last week.

    The buses will run at least partly on biodiesel. That fuel, made from vegetable oil or animal fat, is a renewable alternative to petroleum-based diesel in vehicles, and results in lower emissions.

    The 19 buses will come on top of eight buses that entered service this October and 15 other buses the RTA is rolling out next year. Each group of buses was funded partly by federal grants.

    The RTA relies chiefly on federal dollars to update its fleet, which it tries to overhaul every 12 years. The agency has also focused in recent months on improving bus service to neighborhoods such as New Orleans East and Algiers.

    The new grant helps it accomplish both of those goals, said CEO Alex Wiggins.

    The money will help the RTA "improve service in communities where increased access to transit is most needed, like East New Orleans and the West Bank, while also reducing our carbon footprint with low-emissions vehicles," he said.

    The RTA has explored ways to make its fleet more environmentally friendly ever since New Orleans officials pledged to cut carbon emissions in the city in half by 2030. The city's plan, released in 2017, called upon the transit agency to consider electric buses and more renewable fuels.

    When the report was published, buses ran on a blend of 5% biodiesel and 95% petroleum-based diesel. But the most commonly used biodiesel blends have between 6% and 20% biodiesel, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

    Since then, the agency has considered introducing electric buses but backed away from that idea due to the increased costs. Instead, it has continued to pursue diesel and biodiesel buses. RTA officials did not say whether they anticipate using the same mix of biodiesel and petroleum-based diesel in the new buses or a different mix.

    The new buses will replace vehicles the RTA bought after much of its fleet was destroyed by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Those now decade-plus-old buses have reached the end of their useful lives.

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