Hillsborough buses to convert to compressed natural gas

12/23/13 Janelle Irwin
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Tags: HART, compressed natural gas, Transportation, transit, Philip Hale

photo by Kate Bradshaw, WMNF News

The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority says it will become the first public transportation group in Florida to convert from diesel fuel to compressed natural gas. HART is installing a fueling station at an existing operations facility near Ybor.

Philip Hale, CEO of HART, expects the first compressed natural gas-fueled vehicles to hit the roads this spring with 28 new vans on order for the roll out. From there, the transit agency will replace retiring vehicles with ones that use CNG.

“The plan is, it’ll probably take about seven to eight years, but the entire fleet will be CNG.”

Right now, HART’s fleet runs on diesel fuel which costs almost $4 a gallon. Compressed natural gas is about a dollar and a half cheaper.

“The real savings is on the maintenance side relative to the engines themselves. In most cases, a diesel engine has to be rebuilt within the lifetime of the vehicle. A forty-foot transit bus, the life of it is scheduled to twelve years and you generally have to rebuild within year five or six. Whereas, on compressed natural gas because it burns so clean, there’s a – I would say 80% of the engines would go the life of the vehicle.”

However, Hale does expect it will take HART about four years to see a return on investment.

“It’s not just the station; we had to modify the two facilities to comply with some specific regulations, so the entire cost is going to run about $5.2 million.”

Compressed natural gas is considered a cleaner-burning fuel source by the Environmental Protection Agency because vehicles using natural gas produce fewer emissions like carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases.

“The customer won’t really know the difference. I mean, outside the fact that it’ll look a little bit different on the roof, but that’s about it.”

Hillsborough’s transition from diesel to compressed natural gas is being used as a model. Public transportation officials from Jacksonville have been visiting HART to discuss plans about converting their own fleet.

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