MuskogeePhoenix.com, Muskogee, OK

Local News

October 20, 2013

MPS weighs bus fuel change

School system considers cost of compressed natural gas versus diesel

Buses running on compressed natural gas may not be the best bargain for Muskogee Public Schools, officials have heard.

Voters approved a $2.2 million bond issue in May to be used to update MPS’ bus fleet and for other transportation needs. In promoting the bond issue last spring, Superintendent Mike Garde said most of the bond money would pay for 12 buses fueled by CNG.

However, at a school board meeting earlier this week, Garde displayed a change of heart.

Garde said he has looked at new price lists and found the district could afford nine CNG-fueled buses instead of 12. He said he now proposes to get 15 new buses that run on “clean diesel fuel.”

“Fifteen is better than nine,” Garde told the board.

Garde showed the board price lists comparing CNG vehicles. The list showed that 77-passenger diesel buses cost between $91,500 and $95,000 each while 77-passenger CNG buses range from $163,000 to $173,000.

“That’s a $68,000 difference in the cost of each bus,” Garde said.

Before the bond election, Garde had said CNG costs 90 cents per gallon, resulting in substantial fuel savings and cleaner air.

Garde told the board this week that the per-gallon cost savings might not be enough to offset the original cost of a CNG bus. According to data compiled by MPS Transportation Operations Manager Robert Brewster, if CNG cost $1.26 per gallon, it could take 26 to 42 years to pay back the cost of the bus.

Garde also said it would cost $25,000 to modify the transportation shop area to work on CNG buses. All of the district’s 53 buses, which date from 1991 to 2011, are diesel-fueled.

“And the cost of installing the equipment needed to work on CNG buses in the shop and the equipment needed to fuel the buses doesn’t add up for nine buses out of a 53-bus fleet,” Garde said later. “That means we’d spend all our bond money for buses and still need to buy another six buses somehow in the near future.”

Garde said clean diesel buses are almost as environmentally friendly as CNG buses.

According to a 2012 report from the Clean Air Task Force, diesel and CNG buses would have significantly lower emissions of nitrogen oxide, particulate matter, and hydrocarbon than older diesel buses. The report said that on a per-bus basis, CNG buses would have greater reductions in particulate matter and hydrocarbon than new diesel buses. New diesel buses would have greater nitrous oxide reduction than CNG buses.

Tulsa Public Schools has 140 school buses that were retrofitted with CNG in 2009, said Christopher E. Payne, TPS executive director of communications. Payne said CNG reduces more than 90 percent of emissions of carbon monoxide and particulate matter.

“The cost of CNG has averaged between $1 and $1.25 within the last few years, saving an average of $2 per diesel gallon equivalent,” Payne said in an email. TPS has an annual savings of about a half-million dollars due to the conversion of buses from CNG from diesel fuel, Payne said.

Muskogee Public Schools does have three CNG vehicles in its maintenance fleet, MPS Public Relations Coordinator Wendy Burton said. MPS Facilities and Maintenance Director Wayne Johnson said the department has a heavy duty truck that runs on CNG. He said the cost to buy a CNG-fueled truck was not much different than buying a regular vehicle.

The board could seek bids on new buses in January and would decide whether to go with diesel or CNG buses before then, Burton said.

Reach Cathy Spaulding at (918) 684-2928 or cspaulding@muskogeephoenix.com.

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