By C. Mikel Oglesby
This year marks a milestone for SunLine Transit Agency, as we celebrate our 35th anniversary. Over the years, the agency has been at the forefront of providing the safe, reliable transit service using cutting edge technologically advanced vehicles, for residents and visitors in the Coachella Valley, California. Our plan is to continue down that road into our next 35 years.
When I arrived at SunLine in 2004, I quickly recognized the need to evaluate the entire transit system. A Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) was conducted, which included more than 20 public meetings held throughout the community to solicit input from those who use the service. From these sessions, our board of directors approved a plan that provided a strategic road map for how best to move public transportation forward.
Despite the state of the economy, SunLine has completed a number of the COA recommendations, including the realignment of routes to serve retail and commercial centers, frequency improvements and expansion of service. At a time when agencies around the country were cutting service, SunLine purchased 150 stand-alone bus benches and trash receptacles, as well as solar powered i-Stops (bus stop lighting) to service our 536 bus stops throughout the Coachella Valley. This provided comfort and safety for our riders.
I also realized the need of a bus replacement and expansion program, as the SunLine buses were fast approaching the end of their useful life. A program was put in place and the entire aging fleet was replaced with new technologically-advanced CNG powered buses, along with the agency’s new paratransit vehicles. It was the fleet’s first major makeover in 14 years.
SunLine has been the leader of alternative fueled vehicles in the transit industry beginning in August of 1994 when the agency converted its fleet of diesel-fueled vehicles to compressed natural gas vehicles. Our focus soon turned to further advancement of an environmentally-friendly fuel: hydrogen. In 2000 SunLine partnered with the California Fuel Cell Partnership in conducting a 13-month demonstration of the Zebus, a 40-foot New Flyer equipped with a Ballard fuel cell. The journey to providing public transit using hydrogen vehicles began.
Last November the agency unveiled its seventh generation hydrogen fueled vehicle, the first of its kind, “Buy America Compliant” American Fuel Cell Bus. Through the determination and support of the SunLine board and staff, partners and funders of the American Fuel Cell program, we once again demonstrated the commitment of the agency to the commercialization of hydrogen vehicles.
SunLine is uniquely positioned in the transit industry to assist the Federal Transportation Association in developing new commercial models for fuel cell technology and remains the best proving ground for advances in fuel cell technology. The FTA has further validated the success of the American Fuel Cell Bus Program and its support of SunLine by awarding the agency funding for two additional American Fuel Cell buses through the TIGGER Program, which works directly with public transportation agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and lower energy use within transit operations. The agency also owns and operates SunFuels, its state-of-the-art public fueling station that produces hydrogen on property.
My goal, and the goal of the agency, is to continue the advancement of innovative transportation and alternative fuel technologies, while providing safe, high quality public transit services to the Coachella Valley. BR
C. Mikel Oglesby was introduced to public transit at a very young age by his father, who was a bus operator for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) for more than 34 years. Oglesby has served as SunLine’s General Manager for eight years. He can be reached at email@example.com.