Chicago Chooses Nonpolluting Fuel Cell Buses for City’s Public Transit
Air Quality Grants, Stock Options Provide Financial Incentives

by Jacquelyn Cochran Bokow, Manager of Publications, National Hydrogen Association

The Chicago (Illinois, U.S.A.) Transit Authority announced in September that it had added the first of three zero-emission fuel cell-powered buses to its service fleet. A partnership between the CTA and Ballard Power Systems, maker of the fuel cell engine which powers the vehicles, will test the buses on actual public transit routes for two years.

Once bus operators have been trained to operate and maintain them, the fuel cell buses will be placed into revenue service later this year. The three routes where the buses will run were chosen because they all operate out of the same garage where the fueling station will be located and because they travel through the downtown area where the highest concentration of pollutants are created.

Grants, Stock Options Provide Funding

CTA’s fuel cell buses were paid for with capital investment funds that were specifically earmarked for environmental air quality improvement projects. Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants from the Federal Transit Administration (80%) and monies from the Regional Transportation Authority (20%) provided a total of US$6.7 million toward the project.

Under its agreement with Ballard, the CTA received warrants to purchase up to 200,000 shares of Ballard Power Systems stock at the market price in effect at the time CTA’s contract with Ballard was signed. Within five years, the CTA can sell the stock on the open market and retain any profit to reinvest into the system. Once Ballard’s fuel cell buses go into commercial production, sometime in the year 2001, the CTA will receive a US$1,000 fee from Ballard for every fuel cell bus sold (that’s to anyone, not just the CTA), to a maximum of US$4 million.

The cost of the three Ballard fuel cell buses was US$1.4 million each. Spare parts, maintenance, training, and engineering are expected to cost US$1.6 million. Construction of the fueling station and the hydrogen fuel cost US$900,000. An additional US$2.9 million was provided by the FTA and the RTA to modify an existing CTA bus garage that will house the new buses and to pay for additional site work, labor costs by field forces, and additional monitoring systems. In total, US$9.6 million was allocated for this project.

A newly built hydrogen fueling station at CTA’s Chicago Avenue Garage houses the storage tank and refueling equipment for the fuel cell buses. Air Products & Chemicals, Inc., built and maintains the fueling facility, is supplying the hydrogen (derived from natural gas), and is training CTA staff in safety and refueling procedures.

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