The Interurban Transit Partnership (The Rapid) and the City of Grand Rapids unveiled a plan Monday to roll out what will become Michigan's largest fleet of environmentally friendly buses which will soon be cruising along the streets of downtown and greater Grand Rapids.

The new buses will use compressed natural gas (CNG) as a fuel source instead of diesel. Bus riders will see 33 of the alternative fuel vehicles before the end of 2017, including 20 in service for The Rapids on bus lines throughout Greater Grand Rapids and five for the City's free DASH shuttle service.

The new bus fleet will use compressed natural gas (CNG) instead of deisel fuel.

"The investment demonstrates an important collaboration of innovative partners within our community, using more sustainable, clean, cost-effective and safe products on the market for transportation solutions, said Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss. "Through a strong partnership between the City and The Rapid, we can use these new vehicles to continue our efforts that improve the quality of air we breathe and the environment we enjoy."

The plan calls for The Rapid's 150-vehicle fleet to include 92 CNG buses by 2021, which will make up Michigan's largest system of natural gas-powered buses. The City plans to purchase an additional four CNG vehicles in 2018 for the DASH and replace its entire fleet of diesel-fueled DASH buses over the next three years.

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss was joined at Monday's news conference by 8 other dignitaries. Among them was City of Walker Mayor Mark Huizenga, and Grand Rapids Second Ward City Commissioners Ruth Kelly and Joe Jones.

Before the news conference was over, close to a dozen members of a protest group interrupted the presentation. The group was from the Amalgamated Transit Union, which claims drivers of The Rapid buses haven't been fairly compensated.

"Today was just a warning to The Rapid that if they don't give us a fair contract we're going to organize against their millage that they want to pass this fall," said Louis Dushane, member of the ATU. "It's not like we can strike or anything because of the state laws, right to work has really hurt us on what we can do as a union, so this is really one of the only things we can do, come out, humiliate them until they stop humiliating us."

The Rapid provided us with a statement regarding the ATU labor negotiations Monday evening:

The Rapid leadership was shocked and disappointed by the actions of a few protestors today at the introduction of our new compressed natural gas vehicles (CNG) in greater Grand Rapids.

The fact is, we have made progress toward an agreement in recent months, but the ATU has taken new positions on some issues that are against the Fact Finder’s recommendations and could put The Rapid at odds with state law. We remain committed to reaching an agreement that is in the best interest of The Rapid, our employees and the communities we serve.

We are also disappointed by the union’s clear intent to oppose the upcoming millage renewal. If the renewal request fails, not only will it dramatically reduce the level of service to our communities, it will also force staffing cuts at The Rapid. That would include union personnel. While the national ATU leaders in Washington who are driving these actions may not care about the impact on our community, we’re optimistic local members want the best for our customers and the communities we serve.

The Rapids bus drivers have been operating without a contract for the past two years.

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