Fuel efficiency, cost effectiveness, cleaner air are all benefits a handful of local officials are praising with the dawning of the Central Arkansas Transit Authority's new, soon to be introduced natural gas fleet.
CATA is being recognized for its efforts to convert its fleet of buses to use Compressed Natural Gas, or CNG, as a fuel. The conversion comes as city leaders increasingly talk up the benefits of bolstering public transportation in the area. The authority will be receiving 15 new CNG buses, starting next summer, says executive president Jarrod Varner.
He says the 15 buses will amount to about 25 percent of the current fleet. Additional CNG buses will be included in the mix as old diesels are retired.
The transit organization sourced 11 million dollars from various local, state and federal entities to make the initial purchase.
But will the new buses affect ridership?
Varner said after an event, which was sponsored by a national organization called Green America, that despite the improvements to the aging fleet of buses, “the number one area where [CATA needs] to invest is in frequency of service. From a transit perspective, frequency is freedom.
Although the typical wait between buses is about 20 minutes, frequency for some riders can now sometimes mean a 30 to 75 minute wait. Varner says nevertheless, the bus system is reliable, a sentiment shared by Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola, who was also present at the event. He wasted little time showing off his own ten-ride pass, buried deep inside his wallet.
“If I ever get stuck without my vehicle, I can hop on a bus,” he said. When asked if he regularly used the transit service before becoming mayor, Stodola indicated that he had become “educated” since his days tied to the convenience of the automobile.
Still, Stodola says he's not opposed to improving the frequency of bus routes in the city. Finding sufficient funding to do that, however, is still the main obstacle.