Transit agency moving to natural-gas buses

A public transit agency serving the Aspen-to-Rifle region decided to buy 22 buses powered by compressed natural gas and indicated it eventually hopes to replace its remaining diesel-powered vehicles with ones that run on natural gas.

The Roaring Fork Transportation Authority is buying the initial round of buses as part of its Bus Rapid Transit project. The agency’s decision to power the buses with natural gas is expected to save it about $350,000 a year in fuel costs, RFTA Chief Executive Officer Dan Blankenship said in a news release issued by the Colorado Governor’s Energy Office.

“Fuel savings are expected to be even greater in the future, as we replace the remaining 65 diesel buses in our fleet with ones that operate on CNG,” he said. “Natural gas is an abundant, domestically produced fuel source that will help RFTA become more energy independent, while contributing to the U.S. economy.”

Diesel costs have risen 15 percent since the start of the year, while compressed natural gas averages the equivalent of $2 per gallon nationally, the Governor’s Energy Office said.

The energy office has been working on ways to diversify the fuels for the state’s transportation fleet, partly in hopes of expanding the use of natural gas and supporting the state’s natural gas producers. It helped RFTA explore the possible use of natural gas, and RFTA will use $6.7 million in federally subsidized, low-cost Qualified Energy Conservation Bonds awarded through an application process managed in Colorado by the Governor’s Energy Office.

Meanwhile, Encana Oil & Gas (USA) contributed $365,000 to RFTA’s initiative, and Chesapeake Energy offered a long-term fuel contract.

RFTA decided to go with buses using natural gas after determining improvements in technology had addressed earlier concerns about how buses using the fuel would perform at higher elevations.

“RFTA is proving that CNG can work at altitude as a clean, cost-saving fuel that supports energy security for our state, and will create jobs,” said TJ Deora, director of the Governor’s Energy Office.

RFTA’s $46 million Bus Rapid Transit project, the nation’s first for a rural bus system, will make use of enhanced bus stops, easy-to-board buses, transit signal priorities and other elements to improve its service.


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