WASHINGTON, D.C.—Residents may have to take the good with the bad when they receive a parking citation: as aggravating as the pink ticket may be, there is a good chance that it was delivered by a city employee driving a natural gas-powered car as part of the District's effort to clean the air and reduce operating and fuel costs.
This is possible because the United States' large, domestic supply of natural gas is stabilizing costs and opening up new opportunities for use of this clean, abundant fuel. Natural gas can be used to power more than just electricity and industrial applications; it also can fuel our nation's transportation fleet.
Municipal and local government fleet operators across the country are taking advantage of the new abundant supply, turning to natural gas to help solve two of their most pressing concerns: balancing budgets and improving air quality. In a slowly recovering economy, many cities are finding that natural gas vehicles are less expensive to operate and emit less pollution.
The Washington, D.C. region has some of the worst ozone pollution nationwide, and the city government has turned to natural gas vehicles to help. Motor vehicles are the primary cause of pollution in the area, so the city has deployed cleaner fuel vehicles to reduce both emissions and fuel costs.
A gallon of natural gas in the District costs 40 percent less than other commonly used transportation fuel, such as diesel. These cost savings, combined with pollution reductions, have made expanded use of compressed natural gas (CNG) a priority in the D.C. government's 2013 Alternative Fuels Plan.
The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) buses and light-duty public works vehicles have significantly reduced smog in the region. Today, WMATA operates 461 natural gas buses and 175 CNG vehicles, including part of its parking enforcement fleet, as well as other city-owned cars. These vehicles produce 25 percent fewer emissions than traditional gasoline and diesel engines and reduce smog-producing pollutants by up to 90 percent. Natural gas also emits almost no sulfur dioxide or mercury.
Los Angeles also has deployed CNG transit buses extensively. The L.A. Metropolitan Transportation Authority bus fleet was the first major United States transit agency to convert all of its vehicles to alternative fuel technologies. The fleet now runs 80 percent cleaner.
Airports with large fleets are also using natural gas vehicles. Today, the Denver International Airport (DIA) operates 221 CNG vehicles, saving more than $130,000 in fuel costs each year. The airport relies on CNG vehicles for transportation in part because they are the only vehicles that meet emissions standards for operation in the DIA's two miles of underground tunnels.
Students are enjoying the benefits of natural gas vehicles, too, as school systems are using these cleaner-running buses. The Lower Merion Township in Pennsylvania began buying natural gas school buses in 1995, and each year it has eliminated the use of more than 22,000 gallons of diesel fuel. The U.S. Department of Energy recognized Lower Merion as "Pennsylvania's primary success story for alternative fuels," and it is the only school district to serve on the Board of the Greater Philadelphia Clean Cities Council. Studies have shown that school districts nationwide can save more than $100,000 on average each year due to lower natural gas fuel costs.
Natural gas vehicles are cleaning up the local environment and helping budgets stay out of the red. The public may not always notice, but the benefits of natural gas are being realized when they ride public transportation to work, when they send their children to school, and—in Washington, D.C.—even when they get a parking ticket.