Keeping the Bay Beautiful

Features Keeping the Bay Beautiful By Richard Rowe March 2001 San Francisco International Airport has made a top down corporate commitment to develop a truly green airport. Richard Rowe discovers an approach that includes much more than...

"We would rather work cooperatively with the ground carriers because we think they are interested in acquiring electric ground vehicles too," adds Hooson.

Currently, a draft clean air initiative document--albeit one that is now a year old--recommends that conventional fuel vehicles requiring an airfield permit (GSE and on road vehicles that regularly cross the security fence) which are permitted through March 31, 2001 may remain in service "for their useful lives", but not beyond March 31, 2025.

All vehicles newly permitted effective April 1, 2001 must be clean vehicles if manufacturers offer a product which the airport judges to be proven, economical, and offers adequate performance. Adequate recharging or refueling infrastructure would also have to be available or installed by operators without major cost.

While the draft proposals are just that for now, the airport has essentially committed to having all clean air vehicles on the airport by 2013--or, at least, on the landside. "We are a little more cagey on the airfield because, in extreme cases, some of those vehicles have been out there for 40 years," comments Hooson.

Much depends on the manufacturers. "Some of the landside vehicle manufacturers have been slow in putting out a product that can be delivered in a reasonable time frame." Clearly, a year long delivery times for a mini bus is a problem for many private sector operators. "There are also reliability issues when talking about some natural gas vehicles," adds Hooson.

The airport does, however, provide incentive funding for those that commit to clean air vehicles. The airport’s clean vehicle policy, adopted a year ago, sets a standard whereby operators don’t have to acquire specific types of vehicle (electric or CNG) to be compliant with the policy, but instead have to achieve certain levels of emissions reductions.

"This allows flexibility for new technologies to come along," says Hooson. San Francisco uses California Air Resources Board standards for on road vehicles, which are based largely on grams of nitrous oxide emissions per brake horsepower hour. "We don’t want to be too prescriptive. We just want to focus on the emissions reductions."

The airport has already used its muscle to great affect on the landside. Under the premise that the airport roadway is private property and that it is a privilege to work there, the airport believes it can impose reasonable restrictions on usage including incentive schemes and differential fee structures aimed at trip reduction. The emphasis is on financial incentive rather than mandates, says the airport.

It has worked closely with taxi companies, hotel shuttle buses, and even rental car companies, and in February last year the Airport Commission approved a triple trip fee for hotel courtesy shuttle operators that first permit conventional fuel vehicles starting April 1, 2000. The airport’s trip fee structure favors high capacity ground transportation operators generally charging them no more per trip than low capacity operators.

"The differential fee structure will probably be extended this year to parking operators and others," says Hooson. "We don’t have the ability to do that on the airfield because they don’t pay us on a per trip basis like landside operators."

The clampdown on shuttle operators has resulted in considerable consolidation of operations--an added benefit, says Hooson. Twelve months ago, around 35 hotels operated their own shuttle service, which led to terrible curbside congestion.

"As part of this process of imposing a higher trip fee for those not willing to turn to natural gas we have encouraged certain outside contractors to talk to hotels and combine operations for several hotels in one trip," explains Hooson. "One operator operates a service for about 12 hotels."

Some hotels have opted to go it alone, although they must still keep within a certain trip ceiling. They have to reduce trips by a third to avoid the high fee and that has encouraged consolidation. Typically, no more than three hotels are combined on a given route.

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