County to Get Propane-Fueled Bus

CHARLEVOIX — Officials in Charlevoix County are set to receive a new propane-fueled bus this summer, which will be the first of its kind for the public transit agency.

The bus, which costs $83,925, was paid for entirely through federal and state funding sources, officials said.

“It seems to be the wave of the future for alternative fuels in between (gas or diesel) and compressed natural gas,” said Jill Drury, Charlevoix County’s transit manager. 

Drury said the bus will not look much different than the rest in Charlevoix County’s fleet in terms of style and design. It comes with customizable seating arrangements for up to four wheelchair or other mobility devices. When all seats are in place, the bus can seat 16 passengers.

Charlevoix County used a propane-fueled van last summer as a test project in advance of the bus purchase. 

“The cost for a propane vehicle is more than a gas engine, but runs cleaner and is just as efficient,” she said. “We’re very excited to have this alternative fuel option available to us.”

The amount of operating cost saved will be dependent on the price of gasoline, she said.

Experts say propane-fueled engines are better than traditional fuel-powered ones in terms of greenhouse gas emissions, but to measure the benefit depends on the vehicle that is being replaced.

“In general, it does have some environmental benefits,” said Andy McGlashen, a spokesman for the Michigan Environmental Council. “My understanding is if you look at the life cycle of the vehicle, you get a pretty decent greenhouse gas emission reduction with propane as compared to regular gasoline or diesel.” 

Propane buses have been in service for at least the last several years in areas around the state. Benzie County to the south just received its eighth bus with a propane-powered engine. Bill Kennis, the county transit agency’s executive director, said those buses make up about one-third of the county’s fleet and provide environmental and cost advantages.

“There’s no question it burns cleaner,” Kennis said. “The oil, when you change it you don’t even know it was used.”

“It’s definitely the way to go. America has got such an abundance of propane we just think it will be a lot more stable in the future,” he added. 

The bus will become one of 19 operated by the county’s transit agency. Drury said as many as 11 others have reached age and mileage marks at which point officials can seek state and federal transportation funding to replace them. Those 11 buses seat anywhere from 15 to 18 passengers.

The propane-fueled bus, expected to arrive in July, will replace an existing hybrid bus in Charlevoix County’s fleet, which was received about five years ago. The manufacturer of that bus, Drury said, has gone out of business, making technical, maintenance and other specialized support problematic.

The county used $109,000 in funding from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to purchase the hybrid bus and federal officials authorized Charlevoix County and other agencies that purchased buses from Oak Park-based Azure Dynamics, which filed for bankruptcy protection in 2012 and halted production of hybrid buses.   

Drury is preparing an application for the 2016 fiscal year. She plans to seek funding to replace more buses, at least one of which has 210,000 miles on it. That one and others are more than 10 years old. It’s unlikely, though, enough money will be awarded to replace more than a few of the 11 that are ready to be retired, Drury said.

“There’s just not enough money from the federal and state level for bus replacement across the state,” she said.

Charlevoix County’s transit agency operates on an annual budget of about $1.6 million. County buses transported 117,000 passengers last year.

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