Va. transit fleet kicks off major CNG transition

Posted on November 5, 2014 by Alleyn Harned - Also by this author

Long dedicated to making the switch to compressed natural gas (CNG), the Greater Richmond Transit Corp. (GRTC) kicked off its major CNG projects in 2012 with the purchase of dozens of new CNG vehicles, the conception of a CNG vehicle maintenance program and the construction of one of the largest CNG fueling stations in Virginia.

GRTC is a member of the Virginia Clean Cities (VCC) coalition, which over the years has hosted a variety of workshops, webinars and other training opportunities for fleets interested in transitioning to CNG. Another coalition member — the City of Richmond — inaugurated its fleet of CNG refuse haulers in 2011, which set the stage for GRTC’s transition. View the YouTube video to see how VCC helped the city implement its CNG fleet.

In partnership with Sonny Merryman Inc., GRTC purchased 30 CNG cutaway ambulatory-assistance buses in 2013 and 2014 and anticipates purchasing a dozen more in 2015. The new buses boosted the number of alternative fuel vehicles in GRTC’s cutaway fleet to more than 50%.

GRTC has experienced very few service or support issues — and no major mechanical issues — with the new CNG cutaway buses, which operate in similar fashion to its diesel buses. The transit agency has received excellent support from Ford in handling warranty issues. GRTC mechanics are now being trained to work on CNG engines.

The smaller vehicles in the fleet —StarTrans with 6.8-liter engines — were converted to run on CNG by the manufacturer and Green Alternative Systems.

GRTC also partnered with Gillig on the purchase of 42 larger CNG buses during 2013 and 2014. The Gillig contract stipulates a five-year transitional purchase, which enables more favorable pricing for the transit agency. While only 28% (42 of 150) of GRTC’s larger buses currently run on CNG, the long-term vision is to move all 150 larger buses to CNG by 2024.

Until GRTC built its own CNG station, its vehicles refueled at the city-owned public station. Today GRTC’s CNG fleet fills up at its own CNG fueling station, which the transit agency designed and constructed in partnership with Trillium CNG.

"This is a successful program,” said Charlie Mitchell, chief operating officer of GRTC. “The equipment is working, the city partnership is working and the savings due to the price of fuel are significant.”

In addition, GRTC received a grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation for a three-year bus-rapid-transit effort, which will move Richmond even further toward a more efficient and sustainable transportation future. Dedicated CNG buses, slated for operation on Broad Street in Richmond, will be equipped with traffic light pre-emption and other systems to enhance operation. GRTC and Richmond city officials have identified other non-transit vehicles that can be converted to CNG.

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