The city will take eight of its most heavily-polluting vehicles off the streets and replace them with alternately-fueled transportation in the next six months.
A $388,000 grant from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District Transportation Fund for Clean Air will allow replacement of four refuse trucks, three recycling trucks and a bus for homeless transportation with vehicles that run on compressed natural gas. The old vehicles run on diesel fuel, which the California Air Resources Board has found to emit 40 toxic contaminants, 15 of which are considered to be cancer-causing.
“The recycling trucks and the garbage trucks drive up and down every street, not just on the major truck thoroughfares,” said Matt Nichols, an environmental planner with the BAAQMD.
“That exposes the most sensitive individuals, children and the elderly, to a significant amount of particulate matter.”
Replacing these vehicles with a natural-gas powered fleet will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 89 tons, nearly 2,500 pounds of smog-causing pollutants and eliminate cancer-causing particulate matter, Nichols said.
“Natural gas still emits some greenhouse gases, but for human health at the local level, it is extremely clean,” said Housing Department Energy Officer Neal De Snoo.
Compressed natural gas vehicles are not only cleaner than diesel trucks, they are also quieter. “The residents of Berkeley are going to hear the difference,” noted Nichols.
The grant will enable the city to expand its alternatively-fueled fleet from 17 to 23 vehicles. The city also plans to use its own funds to purchase a natural-gas powered street sweeper and an aerial truck used for streetlight service.
The city currently has approximately 70 diesel vehicles. It hopes to replace all of them over the next ten years. “What we’re trying to do is phase out our diesel vehicles, particularly the older vehicles which emit a lot of particulate matter,” said De Snoo “These trucks are driving by schools and down residential streets. We don’t want that soot out in our neighborhoods.”
One of the vehicles to be replaced through the grant is the Social Service Transport bus, which brings homeless people to doctors, meals, job-training programs and social service agencies. The bus has logged about 200,000 miles over its 10 years of service and is subject to frequent breakdowns. With a capacity of 19 passengers, it is in such demand that the drivers frequently have to do a second run to accommodate all the passengers, according to David Wee, mental health program supervisor for the city of Berkeley Crisis Services Program. The new bus will be able to accommodate at least 24 passengers and will expand its services to include two or three routes a week to Highland Hospital and East Oakland, a currently unserved area. It will add an additional 4,000 miles of service to its route. “This is going to tremendously help the people who use this service,” said Wee. “We’ve found that a lot of these people wouldn’t go to these programs if it weren’t for the transportation we are providing.”
In addition, the city will lease an electric housing inspection vehicle, which will be on the streets next month.
The city will break ground today on a new natural gas fueling station, which will make operating the vehicles more convenient for drivers, who currently have to drive to Oakland to get fuel. The new station at the intersection of Second and Gilman streets, should open in three months.
It will also service alternative fuel vehicles from the University of California at Berkeley, the Berkeley Unified School District and Pacific Gas and Electric.