ROUSH CleanTech recently announced that Mich.'s Allegan County Transportation now operates seven new buses powered by propane autogas to help the county meet air quality attainment goals and save taxpayer dollars.
The county estimates it will save about 50% on fuel costs and up to 70% on maintenance costs.
ACT’s propane buses, which are 90% cleaner than EPA’s current emissions standard, better prepare the county for additional national emissions requirements set to be implemented in 2024 and 2027.
ACT’s Goals After the Switch
Transportation director for the county of Allegan County Whitney Ehresman discussed ACT’s goals for switching to propane transit buses.
“The goal when implementing sustainability goals is to consider the ‘triple-bottom line’ — that is, what is going to be economically viable, environmentally friendly, and socially desirable?” Ehresman said. “These factors were all considered when determining whether to make the transition to propane.”
Propane autogas is a non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, and non-corrosive fuel that poses no harm to groundwater or soil.
The Environmental Protection Agency classifies the fuel as a non-contaminant.
Vehicles operated by propane autogas emit fewer greenhouse gasses, less nitrogen oxides, less carbon monoxide, and fewer particulate emissions compared with other fuels.
“Allegan County leadership remains focused on improving the quality of life for residents — the support for a strong public transportation infrastructure in addition to alternative fuel sources ties into the organization’s mission,” Ehresman said. “In addition to the benefit of reducing our emissions, the county is going to be saving tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars every year on fuel and maintenance costs.”
According to reports by ROUSH CleanTech, school districts, transit agencies, and commercial fleets have reported savings of up to $3,700 per vehicle per year due to propane’s lower fuel and maintenance costs.
“Our drivers are also excited about the new additions to the fleet — these vehicles are quieter and warm up faster during the winter months, which is really an essential feature in regions that experience more frigid temperatures seasonally,” Ehresman said. “Propane autogas vehicles are known to excel in cold temperatures, which is comforting since we experience heavy snowfall during the winter months.”
Challenges of Propane Buses in Fleet
Ehresman also addressed the challenges that may come with incorporating propane buses into ACT’s fleet, but remains optimistic of the switch despite the “public misconceptions when it comes to propane.”
“There’s a high level of safety measures in place with the propane fuel systems — including a tank that is 20 times more puncture-resistant than its gasoline/diesel counterparts,” Ehresman said. “Through our planning processes at the county, we are committed to being proactive, rather than reactive, when it comes to safety. Our technicians have done hands-on training on-site at ROUSH CleanTech, in Livonia, Mich., where these systems are produced.”
Allegan County has been surprised by the availability of resources, as well. Ehresman found that there are a lot of local and regional options for propane, which is encouraging from a planning standpoint.
“Our long-term plans involve having a fueling site at our transportation facility, which is an option a lot of agencies have been investigating due to a federal rebate that is available to encourage on-site refueling,” Ehresman said.
Route planning is another consideration for ACT. The typical range of a ROUSH CleanTech-powered propane bus is 300 miles, so Ehresman said ACT will want to coordinate refueling every day during our busy season to prevent any service disruptions.
“In terms of operational challenges, we are anticipating a training curve,” Ehresman said. “With propane autogas vehicles, extended idle time is going to impact fuel economy. Fortunately, we are working on implementing new scheduling and dispatching software that will help us improve route efficiencies and, in turn, reduce idling time.”
ACT's History with Propane
Allegan County, located in Southwest Michigan, has been a nonattainment area for air quality for a number of years, which is initially what prompted leadership to purchase the propane buses using Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds in 2020, according to Ehresman.
In 2022, the Board of Commissioners and county administration voted to increase funding to Allegan County’s local public transportation program, with expanded hours and curb-to-curb service available countywide.
“Since we cover a large rural area (825 square miles of land as well as out-of-county medical trips) it was important to be mindful as to how increased service and vehicle mileage would impact emissions,” Ehresman said. “By beginning to transition our transit fleet to no- or zero-emission vehicles, we are making positive strides to reduce our carbon footprint. The new propane-powered buses comprise one-fourth of our transit fleet.”
There are more than 1,500 propane-powered transit vehicles operating in transit agencies around the U.S., including Boyne City, Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lapeer, and Saginaw in Michigan alone.
“Tens of millions of gallons of propane autogas are pumped every year for transportation applications as diverse as transit vehicles to school buses to delivery trucks,” said Todd Mouw, executive vice president for ROUSH CleanTech. “That speaks to the ‘staying power’ of this clean alternative to gasoline and diesel. With 90 percent of propane used today generated by the United States, propane is a readily available, clean, and domestic fuel source. We congratulate Allegan County for its commitment.”