The Santa Barbara Municipal Transit District is going green this May, as they make the switch from traditional petroleum to biodiesel fuel for their buses.

For the past few months, officials from the City of Santa Barbara and the MTD have been working together to convert the transit district’s fleet of 70 diesel passenger buses to run exclusively on biodiesel fuel, which is a cleaner-burning alternative to traditional diesel fuels. The MTD announced last week that its buses will be fully biodiesel-capable by May of this year.

According to Santa Barbara Transit Development and Community Relations Manager David Damiano, MTD’s decision to switch to biodiesel is part of the organization’s efforts to reduce its impact on the environment. The transition will make the Santa Barbara MTD the first public transit system in California to make a complete switch to the alternative fuel.

Damiano said the MTD chose to switch to biodiesel fuel because of the many benefits it will provide to both the company and the environment. Biodiesel will reduce the buses’ release of particulate matter and greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere, and since it is composed almost entirely of renewable elements, it is substantially more eco-friendly than traditional diesel, Damiano said.

“The advantage is that a portion [of the fuel] is a renewable resource,” he said. “We can grow more soybeans. We can’t grow more petroleum.”

According to Damiano, the MTD currently fuels its buses with a gas called B5, a petroleum-biodiesel blend of traditional diesel gasoline and soy-based matter. The MTD is now in the process of making the transition from B5 to a fuel known as B20, which is a blend of the same components that make up B5, but with less petroleum and more soy.

“The fuel that we will be using is a combination of petroleum based fuel combined with a soy-based biodiesel,” he said. “The board gave us direction to begin with B5 starting May 1. We will test it briefly and then transition to B20.”

When the bus system completes the transition to the new fuel in May, officials expect a 20 percent reduction in the MTD buses’ greenhouse gas emission levels – reducing the vehicles’ overall impact on global warming, Damiano said.

“MTD traditionally has had a mission to be stewards of the environment,” he said.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, who publicly announced her official personal commitment to help the environment a few years ago, said she thinks it is important for the city to reduce any negative impact it has on the environment as much as possible. She said MTD’s move to biodiesel is a large step toward that goal.

“We use [biodiesel] in all of our vehicles right now. … because of the climate change agreement I signed two years ago,” Blum said. “It is really important that we lower our carbon footprint on this planet.”

Santa Barbara is operating below the Air Pollution Control Department standard, but Blum said she believes that more work can be done.

“Anything we can do to make our air quality better is a very good idea,” she said.

While some community members have expressed concerns about the financial costs of MTD’s switch to biodiesel, Damiano and Blum both said that the small increase in fuel costs is well worth the environmental benefits.

“Right now its only two percent more [than diesel],” Blum said. “The price is coming down on biodiesel and up on petroleum, so the difference in price is getting smaller. The two percent difference is worth it for us.”