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GPTC’s electric buses bring cleaner air and quieter rides

Photo caption: GARY PUBLIC TRANSPORTATION CORPORATION staff (l-r) Riley Stewart, Director of Transportation; Taron Cain, Deputy General Manager Operations; Benjamin Barnes, Interim Director of Maintenance; Denise Dillard, Interim General Manager; Sharita Strong, Bus Operator; Dion Dennis, Director of Human Resources; Ruben Espinoza, Maintenance Staff; David Wright, Planning and Marketing Manager; and Freddy McMillan, Director of Finance.

When the electric buses of the Gary Public Transit Corp. hit the streets on or about August 21st, you won’t hear them coming, because they’re quiet. More importantly, you won’t smell the fumes or see exhaust from their tailpipes. That means cleaner air — a goal for the transportation sector, the largest source of greenhouse gases and carbon emissions polluting the air in the U.S.

That was one of the messages at the unveiling of GPTC’s four new electric buses held Wednesday morning at Indiana University Northwest.

In the words of Shawn Seals, from the Indiana Dept. of Environmental Management, GPTC’s electric buses will decrease air pollution in Gary and in the communities it serves. Using electricity means there will be 150,000 fewer gallons, each year, of burned diesel fuels depleting the ozone layer and producing carbon dioxide.

That number doesn’t represent the heart of the matter, Seals added. And that is “Gary has a lot of areas with sensitive populations which are disproportionately burdened by poor air quality. All of the buses will operate on the Broadway corridor where many of these neighborhoods exist; so this is a really good opportunity for them to breathe cleaner air.”

GPTC Interim General Manager Denise Dillard put a face on those sensitive populations.

“That corridor has some of the highest numbers of youth with asthma and respiratory infections. We have so many children missing school because of respiratory failure. We have so many people coming into Methodist Hospitals because of respiratory emergencies,” Dillard said.

Nothing was lost in the conversion to battery-powered buses, said David Wright, GPTC’s Planning and Marketing Manager. “We used Gillig, the same company that makes our diesel buses. Eighty percent of the cabin and parts, our staff are already familiar with. We wanted to make sure there wasn’t a big learning curve.”

Like the diesel buses, they have lifts and ramps for those with mobility problems and racks for bikers.

A big plus for the company, Wright said, is the electric buses will cost less to maintain and lower GPTC’s fuel costs. The buses can run up to 140 miles on a single charge.

Electric buses are a major step forward and a feather in the cap for NIRPC (Northwest Indiana Regional Planning Commission) and Drive Clean Indiana, the agencies that helped GPTC innovate. Gary is only the second bus system in the state to go electric. Indianapolis was the first.

The fleet of electric buses will be in service on the Broadway Metro Express (Bmx) route. The rapid bus line serves stations along Broadway in Gary, stopping near locations such as Ivy Tech, Indiana University Northwest, J’s Breakfast Club, and Broadway Lofts. The Bmx also includes over 20 stops within Merrillville and Crown Point, such as the Merrillville Town Hall, Adam Benjamin, Jr. VA Outpatient Clinic, and Lake County Government Building.

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