Government Pollution

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We've
all seen public transportation buses pull away from bus stops in
a cloud of black smoke. Here in sunny Austin, Texas, nearly 300
diesel-powered Capital Metro buses prowl around trailing this dingy
haze every day. Given that the Austin area has exceeded the EPA
acceptable amount of ground level ozone, and that Travis and Williamson
county residents will now be forced to pay for expensive yearly
vehicle emissions inspections, it's reasonable to ask if Capital
Metro is doing everything it can to improve area air quality. How
much pollution is in that ominous black bus fog?

Both
gas and diesel engines contribute to smog. They emit oxides of nitrogen
(NOx) and unburned hydrocarbons (HC, sometimes called VOC). These
2 ingredients cook in the hot afternoon sun producing smog and ground
level ozone.

Diesel
engines produce NOx and HC in prodigious quantities. Data supplied
by Capital Metro and the US EPA show that each bus in Capital Metro's
fleet emits an average of 23 grams per mile of these 2 pollutants.
This can be compared to a 2005 Suburban at .27 grams per mile, or
a 2005 Honda Accord at .07 grams per mile.

Capital
Metro has a system-wide average bus occupancy of 7.1 passengers.
This number can be used to express pollution data in a more understandable
way.

Each
bus is the pollution equivalent of 80 single occupant Suburbans,
or 308 single occupant Accords.

In
2003 Capital Metro's bus fleet traveled 13.6 million miles in the
Austin area, emitting 344 tons of NOx and HC into the region's air.
Capital Metro's 291 buses are responsible for 1.2 percent of the
area’s on-road pollution while only being .05 percent of the area’s
on-road vehicles.

Senator
Kay Bailey Hutchison recently announced that the Senate appropriations
committee, of which she is a member, passed the 2006 appropriations
for the Department of Transportation. Included in the pork in this
bill is $4.2M for Capital Metro. Among other things, the money would
be used to improve Austin air quality by retrofitting emissions
equipment to Capital Metro buses.

Capital
Metro can easily cut their pollution without a single federal dollar.
The thing to keep in mind is that the more passengers Capital Metro
carries, the more polluted our air comes.

The
Central Texas Transportation Committee, a group of area Libertarians
involved in transportation issues, has a plan for Capital Metro
to help improve area air quality.

Eliminate
low-ridership routes.
In addition to helping pollution, this
makes good fiscal sense. Taxpayers heavily subsidize Capital Metro
routes, over $30 per passenger on some routes. Out of 109 routes,
32 average less than 4 passengers per bus. Routes 252 (Buckingham/Slaughter)
and 100 (Saturday Airport Flyer) manage to average less than one
passenger per bus. These routes should be dropped.

Eliminate
free rides on Ozone Action days.
The last thing Austin needs
on high ozone days is a bunch of nearly empty buses on the street.
Capital Metro should be required to make sure that all routes on
ozone action days carry at least 10 riders per bus. At that rate
the buses still emit much more pollution than if those 10 people
were alone in an SUV, but it would be an improvement.

Eliminate
the commuter rail plan.
The commuter rail train will emit 103
grams of NOx and HC per mile. Even if it meets Capital Metro's ridership
projections it is still far dirtier per passenger than a single
occupant SUV. Capital Metro could buy a brand new Suburban for each
of their projected 1000 initial riders for about $35M (half of what
track modifications alone will cost) and make the air cleaner to
boot. In addition, the city plans to concentrate low-income families
along the polluted train route, especially near the stations, where
pollution will be greatest.

The
Clean Air Force, an organization of local politicians who created
the vehicle emission inspection program for Travis and Williamson
counties, is funded in part by taxpayer money from Capital Metro.
The inspection program targets the cleanest segment of automobiles,
those less than 24 years old, while ignoring the pollution contributed
by Capital Metro's bus fleet. It's time for Central Texas taxpayers
to demand that Capital Metro do its part in cleaning the air.

September
10, 2005

Steve
Ravet [send him mail] is
an engineer and libertarian who lives near Austin, TX. He is chair
of the state LP Transportation Committee.

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