RTA’s funding woes hamper conversion to natural gas buses

Cleveland Plain Dealer

Ginger Christ

Jan 24, 2017


CLEVELAND, Ohio – Budget shortfalls have held up plans for the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority to prepare the Triskett bus garage to handle compressed natural gas (CNG) buses.

The garage was set to be upgraded after the Hayden bus facility was equipped to handle CNG-fueled buses a few years ago. But, after the $11 million Hayden conversion was complete, RTA didn’t have the funds to begin the $15 million Triskett garage project.

“We’re financially constrained,” said Frank Polivka, RTA’s director of procurement.

That’s why the RTA voted Tuesday to purchase 29 clean diesel coaches and parts for $12.7 million. Initially, the transit agency had planned to purchase 27 CNG buses, but changed the order because of the lack of CNG fueling stations available.

Since 2016, RTA has purchased 106 CNG buses, which, once delivered, operate out of the Hayden garage.

“We don’t have the infrastructure in place at Triskett that would allow us to continue to expand the utilization,” Polivka said.

Because of RTA’s funding problems, the Triskett fueling station installation project won’t be completed until mid-2019.

RTA has more than a $500 million shortfall on capital improvement projects, which includes things like the Triskett project and replacing the system’s aging rail cars.

But RTA can’t afford to wait until 2019 to replace buses in need of replacement now.

“We need these,” Polivka said about the clean diesel order. “It’s a significant cost for us to continue to run these 15-year-old coaches out of Triskett.”

RTA already has moved some of its older buses to the Triskett garage as the CNG buses have been delivered to Hayden.

“We’ve been able to replace some of the oldest coaches we’ve had in the fleet,” Polivka said.

RTA CEO Joe Calabrese said the agency always intended to use both clean diesel and CNG buses.

“The plan always was to have some kind of mixed portfolio,” Calabrese said. “It’s important to replace some of these old buses today.”

To that end, the 12 new trolleys RTA purchased in 2016 ahead of the Republican National Convention also were clean diesel vehicles.

The transit agency has chosen to focus on CNG buses, though, for a number of reasons, including their environmental benefits, their reliability and the availability of natural gas in Ohio, Polivka said.