CBS4 Investigates NREL Running Empty Shuttle Buses

GOLDEN, Colo. (CBS4) – Colorado is home to the only federal agency whose sole mission is to develop renewable energy. But why is it running practically empty shuttle buses all day long?

Instead of saving energy, some have wondered if the National Renewable Energy Laboratory’s 2,300 workers are wasting energy and money and polluting the environment with its shuttle buses.

NREL shuttle buses come in different sizes and go different places, but seem to have one thing in common — very few people on them.

“I was out here the other day for 15 minutes and within a 15 minute period … I clocked nine of them and they were almost all empty,” NREL neighbor Tina Kiel said.

Kiel works right next door, so CBS4 asked her to keep track of the buses and she did.

The following is a sample of Kiel’s finding over three days:

8:44 a.m. – empty
8:45 a.m. – empty
8:48 a.m. – two empties
8:50 a.m. – empty
8:51 a.m. – empty
8:54 a.m. – two riders
8:57 a.m. – one with a rider and another empty
8:58 a.m. – three riders

“It seems like a huge government waste of tax dollars to have empty buses running every couple minutes all day long every day,” Kiel said.

The buses connect the NREL campus with Regional Transportation District “park-n-Rides,” bus stops, other offices, and employee parking lots, which had both energy efficient cars and gas guzzlers.

“I don’t know whether all these empty buses are necessary, but I do know we have done a great deal of study of patterns of how our employees move throughout the day,” NREL spokesman George Douglas said.

It all adds up to an NREL transit system costing $1 million a year.

CBS4 investigator Rick Sallinger decided to stand out near NREL on several different days to see how many people were on board the buses. Most of the buses had very few passengers.

The picture was much the same even when Sallinger returned during the morning and afternoon rush hours. The most he saw on one of the big buses was 12 plus the driver. They hold 30.

Douglas agreed it’s not 100 percent efficient. But he pointed out if there’s three on a bus it eliminates three car trips.

Neighbors wonder about the gas.

“It is kind of strange that none of those are energy conserving vehicles,” a neighbor said.

NREL pointed out their shuttles do run on renewable energy. The buses run on biodiesel and most of the smaller shuttles run on E-85, even though that may involve lower gas mileage.

“It’s a domestically produced fuel, and it’s a fuel that puts less carbon into the atmosphere,” Douglas said.

At NREL they test the cars of the future while employees ride what may become the buses of the past.

For its part NREL insists it’s working to reduce its carbon footprint by giving employees RTD passes and picking them up at RTD stops. By the end of the year NREL will cut out half its shuttles once a new solar powered garage is completed.

The shuttles provide an estimated 600 rides each day.

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  • Number 6

    Just another typical day of waste at Not REaL courtesy of the DOE, MRI (Midwest Research Institute), and Battelle.

  • Laura

    Wow……slow news day, eh Channel 4? What a boring non-story.


    Another government boondoggle like most of their programs. We are now broke and the political system is broken. 14 trillion in debt and Bush & Obama are still eating Kobe beef and drinking fine wine and we have become servants of the government…..and the worst is yet to come. You reap what you sow.

    • Sharkman3472

      Yeah thats it! Bush and Obama are sitting in room eating Kobe beef, and drinking fine wine going “I know lets put a bunch of empty buses and have them drive around all day” Try writing something with some substance to it and try backing it up with some supporting details.


    Waste in government is a huge problem. This is one small example.

    We see empty busses going by our office on a very regular basis. Not only do we see them from my office, we see them when we run errands, we see them in the parking lot, we see them driving around the office park and the majority of the time completely empty. It’s a running joke among everyone here at the office, when anyone sees an empty bus pull into the parking lot we always yell out … “Empty NREL bus is here … again!” Then it leaves the parking lot, just as empty as it was when it entered.

    At our business we actually contribute to the GDP, something government knows nothing about. Without the poor schlubs like us here working for a private company and paying taxes, then NREL wouldn’t exist. Remember … the Dept of Energy was created in the 70’s to eliminate our dependence on foreign oil, yeah that’s been a great success! Give NREL another 30 years and watch out!!!

    • Realist

      And the buses are running as they are currently laying off and firing people – 15 a week or so. But they won’t tell you that, of course. And they only lay off those who know what NREL’s problems are, try to fight them and/or report them.

  • Sharkman3472

    Once again the media has not presented all the details of a story. NREL uses buses to transport its employees from the site they work at which happens to be under construction. There is not enough parking on that site for all the employees due to the construction equipment and personnel, so Colorado Mills Mall has allowed there to be over flow parking in their lot. The buses transport employees all day long between the locations to try and accommodate all the different work shifts that take place. This helps cut down on extra driving, therefore reducing some “Carbon Foot Printing” and providing parking and access to the employees job site. Some days the buses are empty, but others days the ones they didn’t show on this news cast the buses are full. I know this for a fact because I work at NREL. Once the construction of the parking structures are complete the buses will not be needed. Its called common sense people. Yes are taxes pay for this but our taxes pay for a lot of government programs that are worse and much more expensive than this one.

  • Watching.....

    That’s some clever misinformation from NREL “NREL says their shuttles run on renewable energy……”

    Partially true, THEIR shuttles do-but the fact is that NREL has contracted out a lot of their shuttle service to outside companies-guess what-THOSE shuttles are not renewable or energy efficient in any fashion.

    That’s how you lie in government circles.

  • gogreen

    There are worse problems at NREL. Waste and corruption starts with the management.

    • JeffRAY

      Do share gogreen. Would love to hear it!

    • Realist

      How about we give some names here, eh? Director Arvizu’s ass needs to be kicked all the way to where he came from. Deputy Director Bill Glover needs to retire – he has never been fit for his position. And dumb freaks like Executive Director Sue Hock need to go wipe tables at McDonald’s. On the other hand, the world’s best scientists like Alex Zunger should not be forced to retire, just because he happens to tell the execs the truth about them.

  • Sharkman3472

    Another thing if you look at the time table of how long the news reporter observed the employee shuttle buses you can see they didn’t even cover a whole hour out of an NREL employee’s 8-12 hour work day. Real good “Investigative” work on that. This is another example of a slow news day for these clowns, make a story out of nothing…

  • Number 6

    Those buses are a lot bigger and more numerous than the one minivan and one 15-passenger Dodge rollover special they used when I worked at that bizarre place. The million dollar annual operating costs are nauseating to say the least.

    No doubt any contracting bus operators Not REaL hired had to come from a minority owned and/or woman operated business instead of from a business that provides the best value and service for the money.

    Back during the Y2K scare, NREL required its snow removal contractor to certify that its equipment was Y2K compliant. Come on…snow shovels, plows and blowers had to be certified to be Y2K compliant…get real Not REaL. That example is typical of the stupid stuff that goes on there.

    Sadly the good research that does go on gets overshadowed by the touchy-feely-failed-feel-good-social-engineering policies DOE shoves down NREL’s throat. You should read an issue or two of NREL Now (company newsletter) to see how little research news is presented to the employees. Most of it is management patting itself on the back, followed by PRB (People’s Republic of Boulder) style happy talk, followed by classified ads, and what’s on the menu at Brego’s.

    • Realist

      Go Number 6. NotREaL is a great description of what NREL really is. A mirage in the desert. The closer you get, the more NOT REAL. Bravo for the comment.

  • JeffRAY

    Don’t be a moron – they all work 8-5 so there aren’t “shifts”

    Second – What extra driving? In most cases it’s EXTRA driving to drive to the mall and park and wait for buses – and the buses are using the extra fuel.

    Next WHO builds building ahead of the purely LOGISTICAL elements like PARKING. Jeez. This story didn’t even hit NREL hard enough…

    – NREL Employee

    • Sharkman3472

      Sorry to rain on your parade but NREL has employees that work various shifts. They don’t all work 8-5 like you imply. Here are some other facts that this so called “Investigative” news story neglected to mention.

      1. All 11 of the shuttle vehicles use alternative fuels, biodiesel or E-85 (two vehicles switch to regular diesel in the winter).

      2. NREL shuttles move approximately 580 people per day (to/from and around campus).
      About 50 percent of all shuttle trips (and 100 percent of Colorado Mills parking) will go away when parking garage is completed in December.

      3. NREL’s shuttles enable our employees to be productive by getting them to their destination on a regular schedule.

      4. Since 2008, NREL’s overall carbon footprint has been reduced by 65 percent, despite a 56 percent increase in the number of employees.

      So once again the media has done what it does best and put a bunch spin on the whole story, and spoon fed it to you, the gullible “I believe every thing the media tells me” type of person.

      • Realist

        The love comment was for JeffRay, and to sharkman – your desk must be next to PLM’s, you poor toothless little sharkie… Can’t you find a job elsewhere? Or what is it – no one else wants to hire you because you used to work for NREL?… SORRY. There is a stigma, ya know.

    • Realist

      Whoever you are, I love you. I am a former employee.

  • Dolores Moreland

    I think your piece on NREL buses is not accurate. First of all, I walk the same route every morning & it is not possible to tell how many people are in the NREL buses because the windows are tinted. Unless your reporter would have stopped each bus & gone into the bus to count how many people were on board, it would have been impossible to telll. I have wondered myself how many people were on board, but you can’t tell in just a passing quick glance, which is what your reporter was doing. I worked at NREL for many years & I don’t think there is any company in Denver metro area that is more environmentally conscience & repsonsible than NREL. I hope you will go back to NREL & talk to folks that really know & understand what nrel is doing regarding the buses & then be responsible & do an accurate story.

  • PLM

    Channel 4’s broadcast last night on NREL’s shuttle system told only one side of the story. For context, it’s important to know that NREL’s spokesperson spent hours with the Channel 4 team discussing our shuttle program. The on-camera segment of his time was more than 20 minutes in length; however, the reporter chose to use only the snippets that played into the story angle they were after.

    While NREL shuttle buses between Colorado Mills and the STM campus sometimes run with few or no passengers, at other times they are well used and have allowed us to keep the Lab operating smoothly while more parking is built. Some other points the story missed:

    • All 11 of the shuttle vehicles use alternative fuels, biodiesel or E-85 (two vehicles switch to regular diesel in the winter).
    • NREL shuttles move approximately 580 people per day (to/from and around campus).
    • About 50 percent of all shuttle trips (and 100 percent of Colorado Mills parking) will go away when parking garage is completed in December.
    • NREL’s shuttles enable our employees to be productive by getting them to their destination on a regular schedule.
    • To further reduce traffic and parking on campus, NREL encourages telecommuting, alternate work schedules, and teleconferencing and videoconferencing.
    • Since 2008, NREL’s overall carbon footprint has been reduced by 65 percent, despite a 56 percent increase in the number of employees

    • Realist

      Oh, please… spare the public YOUR side of the story. You get paid for it PLM, so it doesn’t count.

  • Renewable guy

    Perhaps if Kiel got up a little earlier, most of the NREL employees ride the buses between 6:30 to 8:00 AM. A typical Channel 4 example of lame investigative reporting.

    • Olaswale

      Four thoughts:1. We pslimy do not have enough density to economically support comprehensive public transit in Acton. A rule of thumb for transit oriented neighborhoods is 8 residential units per acre. This is referenced by the State’s 40R zoning, in New Urbanist design principles etc. In Acton, even our densest areas don’t come close, and many areas are more like 0.5 units/acre, so we’re off by a factor of 16.2. We have an enormous transit system already in place, but it only goes to a few places, and is only available to children School buses. Is there a creative way to use this resource better? What if I could ride with my child to school, then transfer to the bus to the S. Acton train station? What is the cost per rider per day for the school buses? 3. What percentage of car trips by Actonians begin and end in Acton? I’m guessing it is a pretty small number. An Acton-only solution may not accomplish much.4. There is another existing fixed route system in Acton the commuter rail. We just need more stops. For instance, West Acton. If the train stopped there we could quit worrying about busing people from West Acton to the train stop, and some stress on the train stop parking lot would be reduced. Not to mention the extra foot traffic for West Acton businesses.

  • FormerEmployee

    Lame. This story is missing context – no mention of the incredibly advanced clean-energy building that the shuttles are taking people to? Google “nrel research support facility” for the bigger picture.

    And since when does 15 minutes of observation = proof of gov’t waste? Try again, this time 15 minutes of observation during peak usage times. There’s so much that this story is missing.

    I can’t imagine that gov’t waste is so hard to find that CBS4 feels the need to report on something that doesn’t hold much water.

    • Realist

      You must really want to return to work for NREL, former employee.

    • Realist

      Oh, really? So, what are the buses doing running after 8:00 am then? Maybe they should stop? Novel idea.

  • Renee Defibaugh

    Wow It is nice. Obama gifted more buses Rtd bus. People can ride and comfortable chair room passager. No more standing crowded old bus and new bus. It is good comfortable. Obama have rich and paid money and gave them. it is good. Wow NIce inside bus wow.

  • TaxMeNot

    Channel 4 completely missed the real story… the buses are actually a service to employees who apparently have to park at the Colorado Mills Mall because DoE, MRI, Battelle leadership didn’t have the foresight to plan and build a parking garage at the same time they build an office building for 800 employees. Ooopppsss…

    The real story that channel 4 could have focused on was to ask what renewable energy technologies did NREL give us after burning through $1Billion last year and about as much two years prior and about as much this year. Don’t tout the technology that was developed a decade or two ago… what did the nation get for the $3Billion spent over the last four years? Hint: Battelle and MRI only care about their Management Fees!

    Why is DoE building office buildings when they can reduce the carbon foot print by setting up people to work from home. They wouldn’t have needed the shuttle buses. Hint: Battelle and MRI only care about their Management Fees!

    Come on Channel 4- Get to the real story …

    • Realist

      Okay, TaxMeNot, partially you are right but only partially. It’s not the foresight that DOE didn’t have, it’s the money. There is a site build out plan that has certain stages, and it just happened so that DOE had to build the building first. This is called politics and believe me, it was not decided by anyone local at DOE.

      I totally agree with you on the fact that there is virtually no return to the taxpayer on the money spent on renewable energy technologies, even though your numbers ($1B and $3B are completely incorrect). They have tons of research laying on their shelves and most of it has not been transferred to the industry for implementation.

      I will also agree that they have not accomplished much in the last few years. Hence, the decline in the rating from DOE – the started off with A+ and are now down to B+, which is pretty bad. Most everyone else can do more and better. They should not get more funding, they should not get any until they demonstrate they can use it for the benefit of the taxpayers.

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