The Grand Rapids-based energy distribution company has been working with Flint Mass Transportation Authority, Charlotte Public Schools and Reed City Area Schools to supply their vans and buses with propane autogas, a fuel that is nearly as efficient and powerful as gasoline or diesel – but with virtually no tailpipe emissions.
The largest of these, Flint MTA will bring 60 new propane-powered regional vans into service on June 15 on its way to building a fleet of 92 within the next year. Reed City has purchased and put six new propane buses into service while Charlotte has replaced five of its old diesel buses with new propane vehicles.
All three operations agree that the new propane-powered vehicles provide a quieter ride, cost less to run and require less maintenance. They also get up to speed faster than their diesel counterparts and boast a faster take-off after stopping.
“We welcome Flint MTA, Charlotte and Reed City schools to the Alliance AutoGas family,” said Crystal Flash President Tom Fehsenfeld. “Autogas is a smart choice for many light-duty vehicles from both a financial and environmental perspective.
“We were gratified to help these three forward-thinking organizations make the switch to propane and look forward to securing even more converts to autogas – a cleaner and more affordable alternative fuel option.”
Unlike ethanol, biodiesel and other alternative fuels, propane autogas is cheaper to produce and easier to supply. Fleets that run on autogas currently save approximately $1.50 per gallon over those that utilize gasoline. It is also about 1/15 of the cost to build an autogas station than one compressed natural gas, or CNG, station.
That was critical in Flint MTA’s decision to make the switch, according to General Manager and CEO Edgar Benning. When the transport authority – which serves seniors, the disabled and other passengers in 640 square miles around Flint – began taking a hard look at cutting costs, it didn’t take long to settle on autogas as the best option among alternative fuel sources.
“Given the job losses and impact of the real estate bubble in our community, we had to find ways to reduce costs while doing the responsible thing for our environment,”
“Everything about the conversion was a win-win. Those who have had a chance to ride the new propane-powered vehicles we have in service think they are really exceptional – quieter, yet lots of pep that delivers an outstanding performance.”
Benning said that Flint MTA experimented with its first two propane vans in 2011 before jumping in in a big way this year. Its upcoming delivery of 60 new vans will allow it to replace most of its current fleet vehicles, which have anywhere from 350,000 to 700,000 miles on them.
Flint MTA also has funds and will begin to purchase 34 mid-sized buses, similar to those used by school districts. Combined, the two fleets should have 150-160 propane-powered vehicles by the spring of 2014 – giving Flint the largest propane fleet in the country.
The savings have already started to add up. From an environmental standpoint, Flint MTA has reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 60 percent with its new vehicles. Benning estimates they will reduce fuel and maintenance expenses by $500,000 this year. As more vehicles come online, that will jump to $750,000 in 2014 and beyond.
While the numbers aren’t in for the Charlotte school year, Belinda Hoyle said the district is already saving on fuel and maintenance with the five new propane-fueled buses that are in operation. Charlotte Public Schools operates 16 routes that cover 124 square miles of territory south of Lansing, and Hoyle eventually wants to replace all of her diesel-burning buses with new propane models.
“The buses are quieter than my car,” said Hoyle, transportation supervisor for the district. “They require fewer oil changes and less replacement parts. While we are getting fewer miles to the gallon, the propane is cheap enough that it has made up the difference in the costs. We see the financial and environmental benefits to using cleaner-burning fuel.”
Hoyle encourages other districts to do their research and compare conversion and operating costs when considering a switch to propane. For Charlotte, the initial investment has been worth it – particularly since the district was able to secure a grant from the EPA to offset some of the costs.
Paul Lewis in Reed City agrees. His district, situated equidistant between Grand Rapids and Traverse City, purchased six new propane-powered buses this year to carry students on six of their 15 routes, which cover over 215 square miles.
The driving force behind that switch was the price. “Crystal Flash has been a great partner,” noted Lewis, facilities and transportation director. “They put in a filling station with their equipment, so we didn’t have to buy our own. They resolved what few start-up problems we had, and our program is now up and running well.
“Everyone should take a serious look at making the transition. The savings are there – and you’re not polluting in the same way.”
About Crystal Flash™
Crystal Flash™ is a third-generation family-owned energy distribution company focused on commercial and residential customers throughout the Lower Peninsula of Michigan. Established in 1932, Crystal Flash has grown as the demand for energy has evolved, and today concentrates on the sale and distribution of propane, diesel and other fuels. Today, the company is one of the largest independently owned energy suppliers in the state with more than 250 employees in 11 locations. For more information, visit us online at www.crystalflash.com.
About Alliance AutoGas
Alliance AutoGas enables fleet managers to use clean, economical, American-made autogas through vehicle conversions, on-site fueling and ongoing safety training and technical support. The Alliance AutoGas partner network of international propane marketers and conversion centers is experiencing tremendous growth, currently spanning 40 states, Washington D.C., and now the provinces of Ontario, Quebec and Manitoba in Canada. For fleets interested in new propane autogas-powered vehicles, Alliance also provides OEM vehicles through partnerships with automotive experts at ROUSH CleanTech as part of the complete program. Learn more at www.allianceautogas.com.