Gainesville’s Regional Transit System wants to trade diesel for natural gas.
RTS presented its 30-year plan to a city committee on Thursday. It projects RTS growing to 150 buses — all running on compressed natural gas, or CNG — saving up to $13,000 per bus.
As federal funding diminishes, switching to an alternate source of fuel would help to solve the problem of replacing older buses, spokesman Chip Skinner said.
“Typically, RTS replaces its fleet by federal transit administration grants – but it’s a competitive process,” Skinner said.
It’s a process that may lead to discretional grants of $1 or $2 million, but that’s not enough, RTS director Jesus Gomez said.
By requesting a $5 million loan upfront, the system would be able to save for more years, said Matthew Muller, RTS transit planner. Muller presented the study, based on the U.S. Energy Administration’s projected energy costs and determined CNG the most cost-efficient alternative to diesel, excluding hybrid and electric.
Typically, RTS buses run for 17 years, with an annual mileage of 30,200. There are 43 vehicles running from 2001, Muller said.
“Even with a $5 million bus loan, you’re still seeing strong savings because you’ve been able to purchase buses earlier and use that money for reinvestment into newer buses,” Muller said.
Even though RTS’ study is based on current U.S. prices for gas, Muller said that doesn’t matter.
“Even if you went to the extreme position of doubling the CNG prices for the next 30 years, you would still be able to operate it cheaper than diesel,” he said.
Skinner said RTS doesn’t have any dedicated source of funding new buses, and “if the city wanted to take the fuel savings and roll that into the fund [to replace aging buses] it would be a greater benefit,” Skinner said.
For some, the new plan will mean more than just saving money.
James Walden, 57, just received his 12-year safety award from RTS. He drives route 38.
Walden said while some RTS buses are hybrid and biodiesel, converting to CNG would be positive for the world.
“We’re going to be 9 billion people in a few years,” he said. “That scares me.”
Commissioner Randy Wells said in addition to being more environmentally sustainable, the plan addresses an issue that hasn’t been previously addressed: The RTS fleet is going to age.
“Unless we expect to return to the years of the feds coming in with capital,” Wells said. “…we’ve been lucky, but we can’t count on that.”
Wells recommended commissioners reach out to the school board to partner in converting their fleets, too.
“If we go out together, maybe we can capture some of that value for the schools and the city,” he said.