North Texas is under a federal mandate to clean up the air. The Metroplex has too many cars and too much congestion which makes for dirty air and unhealthy levels of pollutants. Mass transit is supposed to help curb air pollution but some Dallas homeowners believe the agency that is supposed to be helping is actually hurting the environment and idling away your tax dollars.
DART is on the "go green" movement, encouraging drivers to ditch their keys and use public transit to save money and cut back on pollution. The air quality in the Metroplex needs all the help it can get. So FOX 4 wondered why parked DART buses are spewing diesel exhaust in the middle of the night.
"That is all you hear all night long, every night of the week," said homeowner Jim Blandi.
"It's really heavy after midnight until 7 o'clock in the morning," added homeowner Keith Sears.
Blandi and Sears live right next to the bus lot in east Dallas. They started complaining to the state after Sears began videotaping the buses. Night after night, the tape shows buses coming on around 2 a.m. and running for hours. No riders, no drivers, no mechanics are in sight. Fed up, the homeowners contacted FOX 4. We met them at 4 a.m. to see for ourselves.
"This is what we have, the back of the buses are facing us and blowing all of this diesel right into our faces and there is nothing we can do about it," said Blandi.
The DART lot was lit up and very, very loud. But it is what you cannot see or hear that is the major concern. The air is thick and heavy and instantly fills your lungs.
"I have had some breathing problems for a while. I have to use the inhaler and I cannot go out in my yard very long," said Sears. "It just makes my home unusable."
In 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency said nine North Texas counties had such poor air quality, pollution programs would need to be started. The EPA states "diesel exhaust" is "one of the greatest public health risks." In Texas, 35 cities have now adopted an anti-idling ordinance. Large buses and trucks can only idle for five minutes and up to 30 minutes if it is for heating or cooling for passenger comfort.
"We don't idle buses longer than 30 minutes," said Jesse Oliver, DART's deputy executive director. Oliver says DART is not violating the anti-idling ordinance because sitting buses are actually programmed to change the idling speed.
"Idling for our buses is about 600 rpms," said Oliver. "So either the buses are shut off after 15 minutes of operating at idling speed, or the speed of the engine is increased beyond idling so it is no longer idling."
So that means the buses are sitting, running and spewing fumes but technically they are not idling.
"I don't agree with that personally and the city does not agree with that as a whole," said Paul Hansen, chief deputy at the Dallas City Marshal's Office.
The Marshal's Office enforces the anti-idling ordinance. The goal is to reduce air pollution.
"I think it would be a natural idea that more rpm represents more emissions," said Hansen. "That is why I don't agree with the argument that is not idling."
"That wasn't really the spirit of the law?" reporter Becky Oliver questioned.
"It's not the spirit of the law, right," Hansen said.
"Actually, the spirit of the law I look to is the fact that they put in a provision for allowing it to be cooled down for the safety of the passengers and the operators," said Oliver.
But FOX 4 questioned if it really takes hours to cool off a bus, especially in milder temperatures. Blandi and Sears say the buses have been idling year round. DART says that is not true, but the homeowners showed us videotape they say they shot in October 2011, November 2011, December 2011, April 2012 and June 2012.
"Common sense tells us that yes, the bus could easily be cooled or heated in a short period of time," said Wendel Withrow, an environmental attorney and Chairman of the Sierra Club. "But not 30 minutes, not an hour, certainly not two hours. DART seems to have lost some of their common sense which is a shame. We want them to be a leader in our community."
DART says it has now asked the Texas A & M Transportation Institute to conduct testing to determine how long it takes for a bus to cool down in certain temperatures.
"You need to pay people to do a study to see how long it takes to cool off a bus?" Blandi questioned.
The homeowners say they just want to live where they can breathe and sleep at night without all the noise.
"DART and the city, it seems like nobody has control over them. They are on their own and whatever they do is okay," said Blandi. "I think they are wasting a lot of tax dollars with this idling problem."
After FOX 4 started asking questions of DART and the city, the two homeowners say the buses stopped idling overnight. FOX 4 only observed the buses during August.
DART says the entire fleet of diesel engine buses will eventually be replaced with natural gas buses and those buses will not fall under any idling restriction.
KDFW FOX 4
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