(source: omnitrans.org)

Breanna Reeves | Voice News

Omnitrans introduced its first four 100 percent electric-powered buses into service last week. 


The buses were partly funded by Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust and Carl Moyer Program grants. 


As the largest transit operator in San Bernardino County, Omnitrans’ efforts to reduce emissions are expected to significantly improve air quality in the region.


Over the past 10 years, there has been a slight worsening in air quality in San Bernardino, according to the 2019 Environmental Indicators Report released by San Bernardino County. The emissions from cars and buses contribute to the increasingly poor air quality in the county. 


Additionally, diesel trucks traveling to and from a disproportionately high number of distribution centers in San Bernardino and Riverside Counties are also the main sources of air pollution, according to a report written by the People’s Collective for Environmental Justice.


According to the American Lung Association, San Bernardino is ranked first on its list of the most polluted counties for ozone pollution and sixth for year-round particle pollution.


Omnitrans began their plan to reduce emissions in 2002 when they introduced the nation’s first gasoline electric-hybrid transit buses. By 2009, Omnitrans’ fleet was 100% alternatively fueled by compressed natural gas, an eco-friendly alternative to gasoline. The agency’s goal is to have a fleet that is entirely composed of 100 percent zero-emissions buses by 2040, as required by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) regulations.


“Since we introduced the nation’s first hybrid-electric transit bus in 2002, Omnitrans has prioritized enhancing air quality in our region,” said CEO/General Manager Erin Rogers. “Operating our first zero-emissions vehicles is an exciting step toward meeting our state’s clean air goals.”  


CARB instituted the clean air goals for buses in 2018 under the Innovative Clean Transit regulation in an effort to reduce emissions by the transportation division. According to CARB, the transportation sector accounts for 40 percent of climate-changing gas emissions and between 80 and 90 percent of smog-forming pollutants. 


Omnitrans’ fleet of buses has operated on compressed natural gas for more than a decade, which produces .2 grams of ozone-producing nitrogen oxide emissions (NOx) per brake horsepower-hour (bhp). Currently, more than 50 percent of the fleet operates even cleaner near-zero emission engines, which produce .02 grams of NOx per bph which is less than the average passenger vehicle. Omnitrans’ new electric buses produce zero grams of NOx per bph and cost $1.1 million each.


Nitrogen Dioxide (NO2) is one of a group of highly reactive gases known as oxides of nitrogen or nitrogen oxides (NOx). NO2 primarily gets in the air from the burning of fuel. NO2 forms from emissions from cars, trucks and buses, power plants, and off-road equipment, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).


NO2 along with other NOx reacts with other chemicals in the air to form both particulate matter and ozone. Both of these are also harmful when inhaled due to their effects on the respiratory system and can lead to asthma and other respiratory conditions.


(Image Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Air Data)


Omnitrans’ new buses are a step forward in mitigating health risks related to poor air quality in San Bernardino County. To monitor air quality across different cities, the EPA developed the Air Quality Index, or AQI, to make information available about the health effects of the five most common air pollutants. The public can view the air quality in their community by visiting airnow.gov and entering their zip code, city, or state to check the air quality for a day, week or month and to follow the air quality trends in their area…

Air quality is measured across five Air Quality Index categories–from “good” to “very unhealthy.” The AQI noted for 2019 that the median Air Quality Index value, which accounts for all daily AQI readings in a given year, was higher in San Bernardino County in 2019 compared to Riverside County, Los Angeles County, and San Diego County to name a few.