Editorial: Laketran made wise choice in purchasing propane-powered Dial-a-Ride buses

The News-Herald | Sunday, May 14, 2017

Laketran recently shifted gears when it purchased propane-fueled Dial-a-Ride buses, after many years of using the same style of buses that relied on diesel fuel.

In conjunction with plans to drive into the future with these buses, the agency also constructed a 30,000-gallon propane-fueling station for these new paratransit vehicles as part of a $1.6 million project.

We believe that Laketran’s investment in a propane-fueled Dial-a-Ride bus fleet is a smart move for a variety of reasons.

First it’s important to note that Laketran based this decision on sound research that was prompted by necessity.

In mid-2015, Laketran learned that Chevy would no longer produce the diesel chassis it uses for its Dial-a-Ride buses.

With that news, Laketran began investigating three other types of fueling options: propane, compressed natural gas and gasoline.

Laketran Operation Manager Ben Capelle said at a December 2015 board meeting that the technology in propane-powered buses had changed in the past five years.

“Propane used to be bad for people in Northern climates like us, because the propane left the tank in the vehicle and when it went to the engine, it went as a gas,” Capelle said. “When it went as a gas, it could freeze or all sorts of strange things could happen between the fuel tank and the engine. Now, the fuel is delivered as a liquid all the way into the engine. It basically runs just like a gas engine.”

The switch to propane-fueled Dial-a-Ride buses also will help Laketran to save money.

“Right now, it costs about $64 a day per vehicle to fuel a Dial-a-Ride bus on diesel,” Capelle said. “We will reduce the cost to about $40 a day per vehicle running on propane.

“We have 80 Dial-a-Ride buses and we’re moving to 85 to keep up with the continuing increase and demand,” he said, adding the new fleet will save the agency about 35 percent in fuel costs. “The last three years, we’ve seen a 14 percent increase in trips on Dial-a-Ride, which is pretty significant, so as we move to a bigger fleet, propane buses will help us keep operational costs in line.”

In addition to the fuel savings, a propane bus costs about $6,000 less than a current diesel model, and maintenance is less expensive compared to other alternatives.

Laketran’s decision to power its Dial-a-Ride fleet with propane also will have a positive impact on the environment.

According to a Laketran news release, in comparison to gasoline and diesel fuels, propane is a clean-burning fuel because of its lower carbon content, significantly reducing smog-forming hydrocarbons and greenhouse emissions. Additionally, propane is American-made, reducing independence on foreign oil.

Making the move to propane-fueled Dial-a-Ride buses is an example of the innovation for which Laketran has become known over the years.

For example, earlier this year, Laketran’s 715 bus stop signs lining major corridors in Lake County and downtown Cleveland streets where Park-n-Ride service operates were redesigned to feature a text-messaging program. The program serves to inform riders when the next bus will depart from the stop with real-time information.

In August 2016, Laketran launched an extension of its popular Dial-a-Ride service with its Request-a-Ride online reservation program feature.

We’re also impressed at how Laketran secured grant money to make the purchase of propane-powered buses and construction of the propane fueling station more affordable.

Through the process, Laketran was able to capitalize on federal funding opportunities that provide incentives to transit systems using alternative fuels to help the community attain air quality standards. In Northeast Ohio, the Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency administers Federal Transportation Administration grant funds and tracks air quality to build sustainable transportation infrastructure throughout the region that enhances air quality.

According to the release, Laketran would be unable to make the transition or maintain its Dial-a-Ride fleet without the support of federal funding. A $416,000 federal investment from the FTA’s Bus and Bus Facilities grant, and a $754,000 Congestion Mitigation Air Quality federal grant, paid for 80 percent of the cost of the fueling station and vehicles. Laketran provided a local 20 percent match funded by the agency’s 0.25 percent local sales tax revenue.

It’s clear to us that Laketran used fiscally sound financing methods to complete a project that will yield significant economic and environmental benefits for many years to come. We congratulate Laketran’s leadership on turning this carefully conceived plan into a reality.