[IMAGE]MET9Top100-TheT-2.jpg[/IMAGE]The Natural Gas Coalition will hold a meeting and reception at the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) 2010 Annual Meeting in San Antonio, Texas, this October.
The coalition was formed to help the transit industry find solutions to natural gas fueling and maintenance issues, as well as to provide networking opportunities for natural gas transit managers, manufacturers, suppliers and industry experts.
"The first real get together was in Orlando at the  APTA Annual Meeting when we had a reception, which I think really opened everybody's eyes and generated a lot of interest," said Dick Ruddell, president of the Texas-based Fort Worth Transportation Authority (The T), which founded the group. "Then, there was the meeting in Cleveland at the Bus and Paratransit show that was more about trying to get organized. Now, we are going to combine both of those."
Ruddell said that the idea to form the coalition came about because he is constantly being contacted by other agencies that have questions about The T's natural gas usage, which began in 1998.
"Sometimes I sit down and answer questions, sometimes I have difficulty answering them and I felt like there were more questions out there that weren't getting answered," he said. "So, I felt like I needed some kind of a way to better deal with all of these questions and issues and didn't see any coalition like this that existed and encompassed everybody."
Ron Anderson, The T's director of maintenance, agreed that the transit industry has more questions than answers right now. "It is really surprising sometimes to find what people don't know, and it is our job to get this information out to people that are interested."
Ruddell added that in addition to providing an all-inclusive tent of open communication and help, the coalition will also advocate for important issues impacting the transit industry.
"There is no reason why, when you get a coalition together like this, you cannot do some advocacy when the need arises," he said. "One of the prime examples is the alternative fuel tax credit, which was so successful to help encourage people to use alternative fuels, has lapsed now. Congress needs to reinstitute that credit, because it provides some economic incentive to make the switch to natural gas."
Aside from the informational meeting last May and a new monthly newsletter, the coalition recently sent out a survey to members to get feedback on what services they want the group to provide.
With escalating fuel prices and a growing cry for less oil dependency, natural gas use has begun to grow, making the time right for starting the coalition, according to both Ruddell and Anderson.
"The achievements we made using natural gas came the hard way, through making a lot of mistakes, and it was really difficult the first year we switched," Anderson said. "Today, we have a lot of help out there, both from the gas companies and from other transit agencies, so finding the answers you need is much simpler, which can make the process of switching easier."
Still in its early stages, Ruddell said that he is unsure of which direction the coalition is going — there has been talk of making it an official APTA committee, but for now the group is pleased to have the upcoming meeting and reception in the Annual Meeting's program.
He also added that, though young, the coalition is off to a solid start.
"It's one of those things that when you sit back and take a look at it you think 'yeah, there was a need for it,'" Ruddell said. "People just jumped on this real early and real quick and helped this group get off to a successful start."