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L.A. rolls out clean bus fleet

After riding L.A.'s Commuter Express for more than 20 years, Janis Risch said the 423 bus from Agoura Hills to downtown is showing its age: In heavy downpours, the roof leaks. In sweltering heat, the air conditioner sometimes dies.

So it was with a smile Wednesday that Risch climbed aboard one of the city's new commuter buses for its inaugural run.

"These feel much better," Risch, 60, said as she leaned back into her adjustable seat.

Over the next three months, transit officials plan to roll out 95 new buses.

Risch, a financial recruiter, said she spotted a number of welcome improvements: overhead storage areas, a smoother ride and reading lights and air vents over each seat. She also liked the video screens up front that alerted passengers to the next stop.

The majority of city buses are well past their 12-year life spans, officials said, and at least one bus has traveled 1.2 million miles since 1985.

The new $67-million fleet of buses will run on compressed natural gas, as opposed to diesel, and offer 49 seats instead of 43. They will also provide easier wheelchair access and more space for bicycles, officials said.

"By phasing out older diesel buses for new CNG buses, Los Angeles is once again demonstrating its commitment to greening and strengthening our public transit system for the benefit of the entire region," said City Councilwoman Jan Perry, who is running for mayor.

More than 70% of the funding for the buses came from federal grants, and officials said the rest would be paid through local transportation funds.

The majority of Commuter Express riders, like Risch, have been riding for more than two years, officials said.

Risch said that even though riding the bus to work takes 15 to 30 minutes longer than driving, she enjoys using that time to read novels, crochet or just doze. Now, however, she doesn't need to be worried about leaking roofs, broken air conditioners or the odor of diesel fumes.

"Looking forward to the climate-controlled, comfortable, smooth ride," Risch said. "And the clean-burning engines."

ari.bloomekatz@latimes.com

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