Metro's Pollution Solution; Natural-Gas Fleet Cleaner, Quieter

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Metro yesterday put into service 10 buses that run on compressed natural gas, promising a quieter ride for commuters and cleaner air for the metropolitan area.

"Washington, D.C., and the region are suffering from a serious decline in air quality," Metro Board Chairman Christopher Zimmerman said during a presentation ceremony yesterday. "Our effort to deal with that problem is to get more people to ride transit and to operate transit as cleanly as possible."

Mr. Zimmerman, a Democrat and chairman of the Arlington County Board, noted that the region must comply with federal clean air laws by 2005 to continue receiving its current share of federal transportation funds.

The 40-passenger compressed natural gas (CNG) buses look much like the older, diesel models, except for a hump on top where the gas fuel tanks sit. They were built by New Flyer industries of Minnesota for $325,000 each, about $40,000 more than a comparable diesel bus.

The 10 new buses will operate in Southeast and Northeast.

Metro aims eventually to have 164 of the buses in service. The buses cannot be delivered until August because of delays in retrofitting Metro's Bladensburg Road bus garage with CNG gear, said Metro General Manager Richard A. White.

Metro already has 50 of the CNG buses, but has not been able to use them because the fueling and maintenance facilities are not ready. The facilities were supposed to have been completed in December, when the buses were delivered.

Metro has shipped 40 of the CNG buses to Salt Lake City, where they will be used during the Winter Olympic Games. …