LAWRENCEVILLE - Gwinnett officials rolled out a fleet of bigger and more environmentally conscious buses Tuesday, the first smog alert day of the year.
"We're almost doubling the (individual bus) capacity we have without increasing costs," Gwinnett Transportation Director Brian Allen said of the nine 57-passenger buses which will begin rolling on express routes to Atlanta in the next week or two.
The majority of the county's fleet of buses carry 35 to 38 passengers each.
Finding a seat has been a problem for passengers since the system began more than five years ago, and in the past month, ridership has increased 20 percent, due at least in part to gas prices, said Transit Director Phil Boyd.
"We don't want people standing for 40 miles on a bus," Allen said of the need for bigger buses.
While the older buses in the county's fleet run on compressed natural gas, the new commuter coaches are fueled by clean diesel. While clean diesel is more expensive than natural gas, Boyd said the maintenance costs are lower and the fuel meets stricter air-quality emission standards.
"These buses will help address Georgia's air pollution problem by emitting less harmful pollutants into the air," Boyd said. "It also gives solo drivers a chance to get out of their cars and into a smooth, quiet ride high above the traffic."
The Motor Coach Industries buses cost a total of $4.2 million, 80 percent of which was paid in federal funds with 10 percent from the state and 10 percent from the county.
The buses feature reclining seats with foot rests, overhead storage racks, individual reading lights and airflow controls, and officials are considering upgrades to equip the buses with wireless technology.
"It's like an airplane," Commissioner Kevin Kenerly said as he looked at the interior.