AU transit system goes green – New high tech system handles record number of riders with ease

Auburn University Tiger Transit
Auburn University Tiger Transit

AUBURN – Auburn University’s orange and blue Tiger Transit buses are now green.
The transit fleet of more than 40 vehicles has made the switch from using regular diesel fuel to biodiesel, a cleaner burning alternative fuel produced from domestic, renewable resources. AU is the first university in the state to make the switch.

Auburn’s leadership on alternative sources of energy starts on campus,” said AU President Jay Gogue. “Tiger Transit’s switch to biodiesel illustrates our commitment to improving energy security for the United States and promoting economic growth through development and use of renewable bioenergy.”

The switch comes at a time when ridership is at an all-time high – with a one-day record the first week of classes of more than 17,000 riders – and when more than 5,000 users a day are using new visualization technology to check the internet or their cell phones to see exactly when their bus will arrive.

University officials worked with Groome transportation, the contract provider of the transit fleet, on the environmentally friendly transition.

The transit buses are initially using B10-grade biodiesel, which is a mix of 10 percent biodiesel and 90 percent diesel, however, the transit system will move to a B20-grade biodiesel blend within the next few months. The type of biodiesel used at AU is made from soybean oil.

Beyond the environment, the university’s switch also proves beneficial for economic development throughout the state as the fuel used is produced by Alabama Biodiesel Corporation based in Moundville, Ala., and distributed by R. K. Allen Oil Company based in Talladega, Ala.

Biodiesel is made through a chemical process in which the glycerin is separated from the fat or vegetable oil. The process leaves behind two products — methyl esters, the chemical name for biodiesel, and glycerin, a valuable byproduct usually sold to be used in soaps and other products.

“The Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition congratulates Auburn University for its leadership in moving to cleaner and more environmentally friendly alternative fuel for its fleet of transit vehicles,” said Mark Bentley, executive director of the Alabama Clean Fuels Coalition. “The greatest advantages of such fuel use are it reduces our dependence on foreign oil, improves the economical development for the state by encouraging new industries and reduces pollution both in and outside the buses, in addition to the air.”

Bentley added that he knows Auburn’s example in moving to alternative fuels will help efforts in the state for more renewable fuel use for personal, business and other university fleets.

While the cost of the biodiesel is similar to regular diesel fuel, Dave George, AU’s director of parking and transit services, said there are many advantages to using biodiesel in addition to the environmental benefits. Biodiesel actually helps keep the inside of the engines cleaner. And passengers and drivers appreciate the reduction in exhaust fumes.

“There is hardly any odor as compared to the smell of regular diesel fuel,” George said. “And we will get better fuel mileage with biodiesel compared to regular diesel.”

With the first full week of fall semester classes underway, Tiger Transit officials will soon see how much the use of biodiesel improves fuel mileage. According to George, one bus uses nearly two gallons of regular diesel fuel per hour which equals 1,000 gallons of diesel used per day.

“We’re really excited about this,” said Clarence Cobb, operations manager for Groome Transportation. “A lot of people just do not realize how Tiger Transit is helping the city by keeping cars off the road. And now the buses will be doing that while burning cleaner fuel.”

The switch to biodiesel is another example of how the Tiger Transit system continues to be innovative. In May, the system began using GPS technology that allows students to view the buses in motion and the routes in real time on a detailed map displayed on the Internet or a Web-enabled cellular phone. The Transit Visualization System has recorded more than 5,000 users who have logged on each day since the beginning of fall semester classes last week. Auburn was only the fourth university in the country to install and use the new system.

Tiger Transit currently operates 42 buses plus spare vehicles on 20 routes around the university’s campus and throughout the city of Auburn. The system averaged 230,000 riders a month last fall, the busiest season for the transit, and set a record this month with more than 17,000 riders in one day.

“It’s great not to have to worry about finding a parking place any more, Tiger Transit just comes right up to my apartment complex,” said Michelle England, a junior majoring in marketing. “I haven’t used the new GPS, yet, but my friends are using it and it sounds great. That and the alternative fuel sets a good example.”

For more information on other alternative energy initiatives at AU, visit the university’s Natural Resources Management and Development Institute at http://www.nrmdi.auburn.edu/.
Contact: Mike Clardy, (334) 844-9999 (clardch@auburn.edu), or
Katie Wilder, (334) 844-9999 (wildeka@auburn.edu)