Tulsa & Oklahoma City Transits Spend $22 Million in Stimulus Differently

Tuesday, October 6th 2009, 11:20 pm
By: News On 6


TULSA, Oklahoma -- Tens of millions in stimulus money is being funneled into two Oklahoma Transit systems. One city focused their spending on green technology. The other city is stretching each stimulus dollar as far as it will go. When all is said and done it looks like only one of the plans will truly stimulate Oklahoma's economy.

In Tulsa more than 10,000 people ride the city's buses every day, but many of their buses have seen better days and need to be replaced.

"The stimulus money couldn't have come at a better time," said Bill Cartwright of the Tulsa Transit Authority.

The Tulsa Transit Authority was awarded more than $12 million in stimulus funding. They plan to replace 38 diesel buses with buses that run on compressed natural gas.

"So it's really important that we do everything we can, with all fleets not just the transit fleets, but all corporate fleets, the city fleets, to reduce carbon emissions for not only the planet but for Tulsa," Cartwright said.

But Tulsa Transit is spending $415,000 on each large CNG bus. That's $60,000 more per bus than diesel buses. But officials hope spending more will save more in the long run. That's because CNG is so much cheaper than diesel. According to gas producers, right now CNG costs the equivalent of about $0.50 cents a gallon.

"So we're banking on this new technology to make this a successful venture," Cartwright said.

In Oklahoma City, the Metro Transit got about $10 million in stimulus funding and they have a different plan.

"Ours is really an expense issue," said Rick Cain with OKC Metro Transit.

The Metro Transit will use their money to upgrade facilities and implement new technology. For example, they'll finally have the money to update the bus schedule for riders on screens they had installed years ago. They will buy just ten new buses with their money and they're buying the cheaper, diesel buses, not CNG.

"We are still sensitive to alternative fuel technology. We try to stay current on it so we know what's out there and we're excited about the potential. But at this point in time we simply can't afford it," Cain said.

But the diesel buses they're buying use so-called Clean Diesel technology.

"We really feel that it's a very competitive situation, whether you use clean-burning diesel or CNG," Cain said.

But, according to experts, sticking with diesel may not stimulate the economy like switching to CNG.

When Tulsa Transit opted to go the CNG route, they may have opened the stimulus-money door for some Oklahoma businesses.

Tulsa Gas Technologies could benefit if they get the contract to build Tulsa Transit's CNG fueling stations.

"If we win the bid, 80 percent of this project would actually be manufactured in Tulsa," said Tom Sewell of Tulsa Gas Technologies.

And, on top of that, Oklahoma ranks third in the nation for CNG production. That means the fuel the buses will use will likely come from within the state.

"As far as Oklahoma, as far as stimulation, that gas comes from Oklahoma. So, you've got all the supply chain, from as it's drilled at the well all the way to where it gets to Tulsa Transit. So, all this money just keeps revolving in Oklahoma," Sewell said.

The possibility of keeping the stimulus money in Oklahoma is part of the reason Tulsa Transit chose CNG.

"A lot of those small companies are right here in Oklahoma so we're supporting them by going CNG," Cartwright said.

Another option neither city chose to spend stimulus funding on is buying hybrid buses. It is the newest technology, but right now officials said those buses are just too expensive.