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Natural-gas buses could roll into Victoria

B.C. Transit is buying at least 25 and as many as 50 new buses powered by compressed natural gas that is cleaner and cheaper to use than the diesel fuel used for the majority of its fleet.
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B.C. Transit is buying at least 25 and as many as 50 new buses powered by compressed natural gas that is cleaner and cheaper to use than the diesel fuel used for the majority of its fleet.

Transit hopes to identify the community that will get the new buses next month, Transit spokeswoman Meribeth Burton said Thursday. Greater Victoria is among the contenders, along with at least one community on the Lower Mainland.

The pilot program begins with five buses delivered by Feb. 28, 2014, followed by 20 more buses by the end of March 2014. If another 25 are purchased, they would be delivered by May 29, 2015.

“B.C. Transit has always been on the leading edge,” Burton said, pointing to double-deckers and low-floor buses. Transit also runs 20 buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells in Whistler. “We continue to look for cleaner energy sources.”

A natural-gas-powered vehicle produces 20 to 30 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions than gasoline or diesel, says FortisBC, which delivers natural gas to customers.

“It’s a B.C. solution,” Burton said. “We have lots of natural gas here, so it seemed like a perfect fit.”

Although natural gas is new to B.C. Transit, “It is a technology that has been up and running in Canada since 1985 with really reliable results,” she said.

B.C. Transit has issued a request for proposals for natural-gas-powered 40-foot-long, low-floor, heavy-duty transit buses closing Feb. 15. The contract is expected to be awarded mid-March, tender documents state. Buses are expected to have a 13-year life span and cover 75,000 kilometres annually.

In Canada, New Flyer has been making natural-gas buses and Nova Bus has developed a prototype. Other manufacturers exist in the United States. Natural-gas fleets are also running in Asia and Europe.

A regular low-floor bus costs about $480,000, and a natural-gas bus is between $30,000 and $50,000 more, Burton said. Maintenance costs run about 10 to 15 per cent higher for natural-gas buses, she said.

Natural gas will result in fuel cost savings of between 20 and 30 per cent, she said.

A tender for a fuelling station, anticipated to cost about $2 million, will be issued shortly, Burton said. That facility will serve the new buses.

In May, the province unveiled a natural gas transportation strategy allowing utility companies to provide incentives to fleets using natural gas and to establish fuelling stations. Transit is applying under the incentive program, Burton said.

Overall, the program is expected to be cost-neutral, she said.

B.C. Transit services, including new buses, are funded by the province, property taxes and fares. These vehicles will become part of Transit’s 1,000-bus fleet. “These are going to be replacement buses,” Burton said.

Containers mounted on top of a bus hold natural gas. Fire suppression and gas detection systems would be part of a natural-gas bus, Burton said.

In B.C., Translink’s Coast Mountain Bus Co. has about 50 natural-gas-fuelled buses serving the Port Coquitlam area, said FortisBC spokeswoman Tracy Tang. Fortis does not have a natural-gas fuelling station in Victoria.

Other Canadian cities with natural-gas buses include Hamilton, Toronto, Mississauga, and Burlington in Ontario, Burton said. In the U.S., Dallas Area Rapid Transit is expecting the first of its 452 new CNG buses to start rolling in 2013.