Natural gas-powered buses ready to roll in Pasco County

By Cheryl RogersTuesday, April 18, 2017

Pasco County Schools will soon be the first in Florida to build and run their own fast-fill compressed natural gas station. The first of its natural-gas buses will arrive in mid-May, when they will be completing the new gas station just south of State Road 54 along Interlaken Road north of Tampa.

“We are about a month away from taking ownership,” says Tad Kledzik, Manager of Transportation Services. “We will begin operations with start of the fiscal year [July 1].”

Thirty 2017 Bluebird Vision CNG buses will begin arriving, three at time, in mid-May, and be phased into the existing fleet of more than 400 buses. Some 48 of them are propane, which use the same motor but a different fuel.

Each bus costs about $130,000, about $30,000 more than a diesel bus.

Pasco County Schools are investing $3 million each in their fast-fill station and a maintenance, operations and parking facility for the new natural gas-powered buses. The district is expecting to pay an additional $3.9 million for the first 30 buses and potentially a total of $11.7 million for 90 natural gas buses at the facility. It also would use some 10 to 12 diesel buses already in the fleet.

There are a number of advantages of the buses fueled by gas from Louisiana and Texas, which is piped into Florida at Jacksonville.

“The big thing … is cleaner emissions,” Kledzik says.

It’s also less noisy, a plus when hauling a bus-load full of talking children. “That allows our drivers to hear a little bit better on the bus as to what is going on,” he says.

As a domestic source of fuel, CNG is less volatile in price. The ability to essentially lock-in the price gives the district a greater ability to manage finance costs. “What happens elsewhere is less likely to impact the cost of CNG here,” he explains. “There’s enough CNG here in the U.S. to meet certainly our needs and many more needs.”

The district has tapped into the system in the Odessa area. The CNG will be provided by Clearwater Gas.

A grand opening is scheduled at 9 am. May 16, says spokeswoman Linda Cobbe. The new buses will roll for the 2017-18 school year.

The district began looking into alternative fuel sources in 2012, before buses like these existed, Kledzik says. The vision for CNG came from Deputy Superintendent Ray Gadd.

Though the Pasco district will be the first to build and operate its own station, others are already going green with CNG buses using third-party fuel providers. “Leon [County’s school district] has a similar facility to what we’re producing right now. Leon entered into contract with a 3rd party provider,” he says.

In the Tampa Bay area, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority became the first public transit authority in Florida to begin converting from diesel to CNG in 2014, according to Sandra Morrison, Public Information Officer.

HART currently runs 34 CNG buses in its fleet of nearly 200 buses, plus an additional 39 of its 61 HARTPlus vans and all eight HARTFlex vans. Some 25 additional CNG buses are arriving this fiscal year, Morrison says.

Hillsborough County public schools are running 50 propane buses and another 40 are on order. “We just didn’t have an interest in it [CNG], simply because of the cost,” says Jim Beekman, General Manager of Transportation.

The propane buses cost only $4400 more than diesel.

Pinellas County’s school district began running 58 new propane-powered buses this school year. The buses save the district money on fuel and maintenance, in addition to being more environmentally friendly, a spokeswoman says.

As the Pasco district’s personnel are trained on the new buses, Kledzik says they plan to let surrounding districts in on the education process, which will include information on propane buses as well. “We’re looking to open it up and make it more a multi-county effort,” he says.

Kledzik says the new CNG buses are a way to “diversify the composition” of the fleet. He expects the school district will continue to invest in propane – and diesel. Diesel still is preferred for long trips outside of the county, and even longer trips within the county, he says.

“I don’t believe we’d get away completely from diesel buses,” he says.

Tampa Bay Alternative Fuel Vehicle Expo is slated from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. April 20 at 11780 Tampa Gateway Blvd, Seffner.

More information on alternative fuels is available at the Alternative Fuels Data Center or the U.S. Department of Energy’s National Clean Cities Program at 1-800-CCITIES.

Source: Natural gas-powered buses ready to roll in Pasco County