Greener city buses clear the air, but choices aren’t always clear

By Barbara Kessler
Green Right Now

You’ve heard the saying, “it’s easy being green.” Maybe sometimes. But not always, and not if you’re the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) agency, which finds itself tangling with a green dilemma.

DART, which serves Dallas and 11 other cities in the region, has been planning to replace its aging bus fleet with 537 shiny new buses. It’s a great opportunity to go green with the entire fleet.

But after taking bids this fall and updating the research, the agency members are locked in debate over what type of buses are “cleaner” and which ones make the most sense environmentally and economically. The answer is not readily apparent. Like potential car buyers on the threshold of a dealership showroom, the bus-buying members of DART find themselves puzzling over the new technologies and old perceptions.

Cleaning up school bus emissions

By Catherine Colbert

When David Kilbourne picked up his 8-year-old son from Lake Travis Elementary in spring 2007, he noticed smoke billowing from idling buses parked in queue behind the school. The exhaust fumes his son was breathing each day as he waited to be picked up, he says, were contributing to his son’s migraine headaches. “My son is the quarterback for his youth football team,” said Kilbourne. “Because there’s only one quarterback, when he gets these headaches, it affects the team.”

Kilbourne remembers noticing the bus exhaust during the school’s bus safety week. “They were talking about how buses are safe when it comes to traffic accidents,” he said, “but there’s more to a bus’s safety than traffic accidents, like having air that’s safe to breathe.”

The coincidence spurred Kilbourne to take action. Not only did he write several letters to his local newspaper, but Kilbourne approached the head of his district’s transportation department to discuss air quality in and around its buses. After he spoke to Rick Walterscheid, the transportation director at the Lake Travis Independent School District, the school system put a no-idling policy into effect.

Walterscheid didn’t stop there, either. Later that year the 79th Texas Legislature adopted House Bill 3469, which established and authorized the formation of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) to administer a statewide clean school bus program.