Officials work to green shuttle service

If you want to get from Foggy Bottom to Mount Vernon, the always-running Vern Express is your best bet. But with the round-the-clock schedule for a fleet of large vans, how much does the transit service contribute to the University’s carbon footprint?

Very little, Mount Vernon officials say.

GW’s shuttle made up 0.44 percent of the University’s carbon footprint in 2008, Elan Schnitzer, marketing coordinator for event and special services on the Mount Vernon Campus, said.

Mark Starik, director of the environmental and social sustainability initiative at GW, said he expects the 0.44 percent to be an average, accepted amount for a service that runs throughout the day like the Vern Express.

GW emitted 128,301 metric tons of carbon dioxide during the 2008 fiscal year, according to a greenhouse gas emissions inventory.

Robert Snyder, the managing director for Mount Vernon Campus Life, said the Vern Express is focusing on using a new, more eco-friendly fuel.

“The contractor that runs the Vern Express service recently began using a bio-diesel fuel blend in all of the buses, and the ratio for that bio-diesel blend has gradually increased in concert with the buses’ engines being able to handle this increased ratio,” Snyder said.

Snyder said sustainability is also a top priority in ongoing contract negotiations with International Limousine Service Inc. – the contractor who operates the Vern Express – and sustainability commitments will likely be enhanced under the new contract. The negotiations will be completed by the end of this academic year, Snyder said. Neither Snyder nor Schnitzer commented on what the eco provision in the new contract might be, but Snyder said information on the contracts will be available later this academic year.

“Once the contract is finalized, it will likely include new sustainability commitments beyond those that are already in place,” Schnitzer said in an e-mail.

The Vern Express runs between seven and 12 buses at a time during the weekday and one or two buses, depending on the time of day, on the weekends, making an average 500 loops from Foggy Bottom to Mount Vernon and back per day. Schnitzer said it saves gas and reduces carbon emissions when compared to what emissions from cars driving to and from the Mount Vernon Campus would be if the shuttle were not in place and students, staff and faculty had to drive.

The times when buses sit still can also be problematic. D.C. law prohibits buses from idling for more than three minutes in temperatures above freezing and more than five minutes below freezing, according to the American Transportation Research Institute’s Web site.

In February 2008, prior to the release of its full report, GW’s Presidential Task Force on Sustainability recommended in a memo to University President Steven Knapp that the Express follow local idling laws. The recommendation was also issued in the task force’s final report.

Of the 20 Vern Express buses the Hatchet observed at the stop near G and 22nd streets, six idled over the three-minute limit.

Snyder said contractor supervisors and a group of students hired by Mount Vernon Campus Life enforce the law.

“The Vern Express remains committed to adhering to Washington D.C.’s idling regulations in order to reduce the environmental impact of the buses while they are waiting to pick up passengers on the campuses,” Snyder said.

A D.C. official said the District has no record of citing the Vern Express for idling violations.

“Our initial look at the files reveals that we have not issued any citations to George Washington University for engine idling in the recent past,” Alan Heymann, director of public information for the District of Columbia’s Department of the Environment, said in an e-mail.

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