Laketran, a public transit agency serving Lake County, Ohio, says it is aggressively trying to find ways to make its Dial-a-Ride paratransit service more efficient as ridership continues to grow alongside the region’s aging population. One of those strategies is transitioning the 85-bus Dial-a-Ride fleet from diesel fuel to propane autogas.
“There’s some expenses we can’t cut,” explains General Manager Ben Capelle. “You can’t cut labor cost without cutting service, so we need to get a little more creative. Tightening standards for emissions and shrinking budgets have been driving the transportation industry toward alternative fuels now more than ever before, and so propane is one of our solutions.”
Cappelle adds, “By operating propane-fueled buses, we’re reducing our fuel expenses by 35 percent and saving on maintenance expenses.”
The agency says propane is a clean-burning fuel due to its low carbon content and significantly reduces smog-forming hydrocarbons and greenhouse-gas emissions compared to gasoline and diesel fuels. Additionally, Laketran notes propane is American-made, reducing independence on foreign oil.
In 2017, Laketran installed an autogas fueling station with partner Superior Energy Systems and added eight propane-powered buses to its Dial-a-Ride fleet, including two smaller eight-passenger buses, Turtle Top VT3s.
“We have spent the last six months testing both our traditional Ford E-450 and new VT3 model to prepare for purchase of replacement vehicles,” says Capelle. “Both our drivers and customers have had positive feedback on how they operate.”
Board approves more propane vehicles
At a Jan. 22 Laketran Board of Trustees meeting, the board approved the purchase of 11 propane-powered replacement vehicles, including six additional VT3 model buses.
“We’re replacing eight-year-old vehicles with 200,000 to 250,000 miles on them,” explains Capelle. “There’s significant maintenance savings when you can operate newer vehicles, so we’re continuously looking for capital funding for replacement vehicles.”
Piecing together federal grants that can fund up to 80% of vehicle purchases, Laketran is relying on the Federal Transportation Administration’s Enhanced Mobility for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program that provides capital grants for transit agencies to meet the needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants that provide federal funding for statewide transportation projects in urban areas of Ohio that need to improve congestion and air quality.
Both these programs are administered through Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.
Laketran says it will award a contract to Oregon, Ohio-based TESCO for the purchase of the 11 new propane buses at a cost of $1,301,756 and expects the buses to be in operation by late summer. The local 20% match is paid through Laketran’s local sales tax levy.
“By end of 2018, we should have 35 percent of our Dial-a-Ride fleet transitioned to propane, with 30 propane buses on the road. Our original goal was to transition the fleet in five years, but at this replacement pace, we may see the cost savings even sooner,” says Laketran Board President Brian Falkowski. “If we can find a way to operate more efficiently and environmentally friendly, we’re going to push to do that as soon as possible.”
Photos courtesy of Laketran