Propane autogas is one of the fastest growing alternative fuels in the transit industry. Not only do propane vehicles offer the lowest total ownership costs, but they reduce maintenance expenses, excel in cold weather, and drastically reduce tailpipe emissions. Over 1,500 propane-powered paratransit vehicles operate in U.S. transit agencies, including Broward County Transit in Florida and Charlevoix County Transit in Michigan.
“With a propane fueling infrastructure, propane is most cost-effective alt fuel system,” said Paul Strobis, director of paratransit for Broward County Transit. “Our total net cost by switching to propane away from gasoline is about $8.2 million over the last five years, and that doesn’t include additional Florida incentives we received.”
Broward County has about 400 vehicles in its fleet and 158 of them run on propane. “Propane is very safe. The manufacturing standards of propane fuel systems are incredibly high. The tank quality is much higher than a gasoline tank,” said Strobis.
The reduction in maintenance and maintenance costs has been a strong benefit for transit fleets that have transitioned to propane. Due to the fuel’s clean composition, there are no complex and costly after-treatment systems.
Charlevoix County Transit in Michigan has also seen a big improvement in its budget by switching to propane.
“In 2019, we saved $130,000 in fuel costs alone with 13 propane vehicles, plus received about $20,000 in alternative fuel credits,” said Jill Drury, Charlevoix County Transit director. “In 2020, our transit vehicles were used less, although we still saved $55,000 with propane.”
Charlevoix County Transit shuttles are equipped with the ROUSH CleanTech propane fuel system, which can help fleet managers maintain the lowest possible total cost of ownership. On average, the fuel is 40% less expensive than gasoline and about 50% less than diesel.
Standard diagnostic equipment can be used to service propane autogas vehicles. “One thing I really like about working on the ROUSH CleanTech system is how easy it was to transition to,” said Gary Griffen-Potter, lead mechanic for Charlevoix County Transit. “If you can work on a gas or diesel engine, you can work on a propane-fueled vehicle.”
Over the last five years, Broward County Transit reports it consumed 7.2 million gallons of propane in its fleet. “We saved $5.2 million in fuel costs alone compared with gasoline. Add in the alt fuel credits and we saved $8.2 million,” said Strobis.
On top of the cost-saving and maintenance benefits, propane vehicles are one of the leading ways to reduce emissions with transit fleets. Compared to gasoline, fleet vehicles that run on propane emit fewer greenhouse gases, smog-producing hydrocarbons, and virtually eliminate particulate emissions.
“We’ve emitted 18 million fewer pounds of carbon dioxide emissions in the past five years with our propane fleet,” said Strobis.
ROUSH CleanTech vehicles can also operate on renewable propane, which is propane from non-fossil fuel sources like cooking oil.
“One of the biggest benefits of having alternative-fueled buses is the positive effect on our environment. Our service area sits along Lake Michigan’s shoreline and has several large lakes in the heart of the county that drives the vacationing appeal of Charlevoix County,” said Drury. “We are mindful of the environment and happy that by switching buses from diesel and gas to propane, we are helping the air, land and waters where we live and vacation.”
Many fleet managers decide to install on-site fueling infrastructure, eliminating trips to off-site stations, and lowing their fuel costs. Propane fueling infrastructure costs less than any other transportation energy source — conventional or alternative.
“It’s very low cost for propane infrastructure. Compared to CNG where you have to lay out millions for a fueling system, propane is in the tens of thousands of dollars,” said Strobis.
Because propane’s availability is steady, fuel supply contracts allow customers to lock in single- or multi-year pricing agreements, securing consistent pricing regardless of fluctuating market prices.
With propane being a safe, domestically produced fuel with a robust infrastructure and economic and environmental efficiencies, it is a sustainable transportation solution that provides a smart return on investment. The experience of both Broward County Transit and Charlevoix County Transit shows the power of propane autogas in limiting maintenance service and reducing operating costs.