UPDATE: Central Ohio Transit Authority Ready for Transition to CNG Fleet

UPDATE (5/21/2013, 10:13pm ET): Earlier this month, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) released its first 30 CNG buses for use.  While they don’t look much different than the typical diesel-fuel bus, COTA will definitely notice the difference in cost.  They pay about $3.20 for a gallon of diesel fuel, but will pay only about 80 cents for a gallon equivalent of natural gas.  All told, COTA could save $28,800 a year in fuel costs for each bus.  Akron’s METRO Regional Transit Authority saved about $600,000 on fuel last year because of their CNG vehicles.

Currently, COTA has more than 320 buses. They hope to transition the entire fleet to CNG over the next 12 years at a pace of about 30 each year.  Jeff Hiott, a senior program manager with the American Public Transportation Association commented on the difference between diesel and CNG:

“A diesel-fueled bus is still the cheapest buy. However, when you look at everything combined, you can realize some savings there.” –Jeff Hiott (COTA’s cheap-fuel buses roll out today, 5/6/13)

That’s certainly good news for taxpayers in Central Ohio.

COTA isn’t alone in their quest for a cleaner and cheaper fuel for public transportation.  More than a third of transit buses nationwide were hybrids or used an alternative fuel in 2011. According to the American Public Transportation Association, that’s up from 10 percent a decade earlier.

- Original post from November 20, 2012 -

Last week, the International Energy Agency (IEA) released its annual forecast for international energy production. Their findings were nothing short of astounding, however they may have surprised few as America’s shale development has taken off in the past years with much fanfare.

The agency, which advises industrialized nations on energy policy, projects the United States will become the world’s largest producer of natural gas by 2015, surpassing Russia as the world’s natural gas juggernaut. The report also identified the United States becoming the world’s top oil producer in 2017, replacing Saudi Arabia as the highest-producing nation.

This is a direct result of expanding shale development taking place across the country, including in Ohio’s Utica Shale. And businesses are taking full advantage of the opportunities these domestic energy resources are providing.

As the IEA released its report, the Central Ohio Transit Authority (COTA) was beginning preparations to convert their fleet to compressed natural gas (CNG) powered busses. In late April, COTA expects to receive their first 30 CNG vehicles, marking the first steps in the process of a full conversion.

Long-term, this move will reduce both operational costs and the carbon emissions of the fleet. COTA expected to spend about $12 million on diesel this year, and notes the switch to CNG could cut their fuel budget by about two-thirds once completed. The reduction of operating costs – thanks to an abundance of natural gas available thanks to shale development, is a driving factor in the conversion, as COTA CEO Curtis Stitt explained in an interview with Columbus Business First:

As we were moving through the process of rehabilitation, we decided on CNG as the fuel of COTA for the future. – Curtis Stitt, CEO, COTA (COTA gets ready for 1st shipment of CNG vehicles, 11/16/12)

In addition to the benefits of converting to natural gas vehicles in being more environmentally friendly and easy on the wallet, the paper also highlights another benefit touted by COTA: noise reduction. The column cites COTA officials noting it would take ten CNG buses to create the same noise level as a single diesel-powered bus- just another reason COTA is converting its entire fleet over the next decade.

The benefits of the increasing use of natural gas have been covered extensively on our blog, and have garnered much attention and support throughout the state, and country.

Earlier this year, the Institute for Energy Research released a study noting that the U.S. has led the world in carbon reductions since 2006, thanks in large part to a growing utilization of natural gas as and energy resource. In October, America’s Natural Gas Alliance, in coordination with Governor John Kasich’s office and the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio, held a Natural Gas Vehicle Summit to help companies and municipalities see these benefits, and offer a glimpse of what’s here in Ohio and what will be an expanding industry in the years to come.

While COTA may be the latest to make the switch, they are not the first. The Stark Area Regional Transit Authority has set plans to switch their vehicles to natural gas, and, back in AprilSmith Dairy announced they would convert their entire fleet of large diesel power trucks to run on CNG.  The company broke ground on a $1.5 million fueling station at their headquarters in Orrville.

Starting next year, TravelCenters of America LLC, a company based in Cleveland, reported in June that they hope to add at least 200 CNG fuel pumps at its truck stops across the nation through a partnership with Shell Oil Co.

The trend is taking place in other regions of the country as well. In April, Frito-Lay announced it would add 67 trucks that would run on CNG to its fleet.  Other national companies making the switch include Sunny Delight and AT&T.

More and more companies, communities, and municipalities are recognizing the benefits of natural gas vehicles, and the appeal of utilizing natural gas as an energy source. As we see continued high production of domestic natural gas, we can expect this trend to continue as these entities work to take full advantage of our resources. Here at home, we can see how Ohio is preparing to do just that, emerging as a pioneer in the shale revolution that is not only pushing the U.S. to be worldwide leader in energy production, but creating jobs for American families as well.

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