April 2012

Flint MTA Switches to Propane for Savings, Eco-Benefits

by Alex Roman, Managing Editor

In 2011, Livonia, Mich.-based manufacturer of propane autogas fuel systems ROUSH CleanTech and its in-state neighbor the Flint Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) unveiled the agency's first propane autogas paratransit vehicle at the BusCon Expo in Chicago.

The MTA's new vehicle, built on a Ford E-450 chassis, with a 6.8-liter, V10 engine and 41-gallon propane fuel tank, was converted by ROUSH and is just part of the agency's commitment to an alternatively-propelled fleet.
"This movement to alternative fuels is one that we feel will give the MTA long-term sustainability and also allows to help provide a cleaner sustainable community here in Genesee County," says the MTA's GM Edgar Benning.

MTA plans on replacing its entire paratransit fleet with propane vehicles and is also seeking a grant to replace diesel engine vehicles that are used for peak service — primarily rush hour student activity — with propane vehicles as well. For its large bus fleet, MTA will be testing two to three hydrogen fuel-cell vehicles this year and will also use a mix of diesel-electric and compressed natural gas, according to Benning.

Sustainable commitment

As part of its commitment to sustainability within the communities it serves, the MTA's decision to switch to propane for its paratransit fleet was driven in part by its ability to reduce maintenance costs as well potentially extend the engine life. Propane fueled vehicles emit less carbon dioxide, about 20% less nitrogen oxide, 60% less carbon monoxide and up to 24% less greenhouse gas, when compared with gasoline-fueled vehicles. They also release fewer smog-producing particulates, reducing short-term and long-term health effects in passengers, according to ROUSH CleanTech's VP, sales and marketing, Todd Mouw.

"Propane burns much cleaner than gasoline or diesel, so you don't have the same carbon content of the fuel," he explains. "In the very worst case, the lifetime of the vehicle would be the same as a gasoline-fueled vehicle, but in theory, it should last longer."

With the agency planning to replace 150 vehicles within three to four years, including the purchase of at least 48 more 16-passenger propane autogas shuttles by early 2012, Benning says cost was another major reason for the switch to propane.

"We anticipate that we will be able to purchase propane in volume, up to a year in advance or possibly over a two-year period, for under $2-per-equivalent gallon," says Benning. "If the national incentive continues for alternative fuels, we will be eligible for a 50-cent incentive off each gallon from the federal government, which could bring the cost down, per gallon equivalent, to about $1.50."


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