Transit fleet converting to cleaner energy
The recent arrival of a pair of compressed natural gas buses marks the beginning of Grand Valley Transit’s conversion to a fleet of vehicles that will run on cleaner energy and should save taxpayers money on fueling and maintenance costs in the years to come.
Mesa County will swap out two diesel buses in its 25-bus fleet in favor of the CNG buses. Officials hope to have the new buses in service by the beginning of next month after mechanics and drivers are trained on maintenance and operation.
Grand Valley Transit will be one of the few transit agencies in Colorado to run buses on CNG.
“I think it is significant. This is a very big step in the direction we’ve received from the Grand Valley Regional Transportation Committee to move all of our vehicles over to compressed natural gas,” said Todd Hollenbeck, manager of the Mesa County Regional Transportation Planning Office. “It will be interesting to see how these buses work, what type of efficiencies we find with them.”
The county has applied for funding to purchase eight more CNG buses. A full conversion won’t occur until 2020 at the earliest, Hollenbeck said.
The greatest advantage of CNG is the savings in fuel costs. Grand Valley Transit buses currently fill at an average cost of $3.73 a gallon, about $2 more than the city of Grand Junction pays for an equivalent gallon of CNG for its trash trucks.
“This fluctuation of diesel (prices) is killing us in terms of our budget,” Hollenbeck said, noting Grand Valley Transit expects to spend roughly $100,000 more next year on fuel and maintenance. “It’s those types of costs we’re trying to harness.”
CNG buses cost about $50,000 more each than their diesel counterparts — 80 percent of their price tag is covered by federal grants — but Grand Valley Transit expects to recoup that investment within 10 years through savings on cheaper natural gas, Hollenbeck said.
The buses will fuel overnight each day at the city’s slow-fill station off Riverside Parkway west of West Avenue.
There are other benefits to CNG buses. They pollute less and run quieter than diesel vehicles and feature greater passenger capacity. All seats are against the sides or back of the bus, creating more standing room in the aisles.
The first two CNG buses acquired by Grand Valley Transit are longer than diesel buses, which could make rounding street corners a little trickier.
Hollenbeck said officials will configure routes as necessary to ensure the elongated buses avoid those tighter turns.
Hollenbeck said Grand Valley Transit conducted a lot of research about switching to CNG. One of the agencies it studied was Transfort, the Fort Collins bus service. That agency introduced its first natural gas bus in 2005 and will have half of its 34-bus fleet running on CNG by the end of this month, according to Assistant General Manager Kurt Ravenschlag.
He said Fort Collins has had a “great experience” with CNG, noting fuel economy is on par with its biodiesel buses and that more funding exists for CNG buses than for diesel vehicles.
It’s also more aesthetically pleasing.
“You don’t see that black cloud coming from the tail pipe,” he said. “It doesn’t have an odor.”