MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Beginning in late July or early August, the Mountain Line Transit Authority will test propane-powered buses.

General Manager Maria Smith said the many benefits of propane price stability were very attractive. Gasoline and diesel prices are subject to wild swings due to weather conditions, world tensions, and supply and demand influences, none of which control the current propane market.

“Propane tends to run about 40 percent less than gas, and it’s also more stable in terms of price,” Smith said. “So, the cost today for a gallon of propane is $1.76, and it doesn’t change much from that.”

Propane is a fuel produced during the production of natural gas, making it easily available in the Mountain State. That’s conventional propane; new methods allow producers to make renewable propane from renewable feedstocks.

“In our state and region, propane is a byproduct of the natural gas production process, so for that, it made a lot of sense for us,” Smith said. “And it runs about 75 percent cleaner than the EPA emission standards.”

Electric buses used for mass transit are very expensive and still under research and development in many ways. Smith said because of the charging needs, they would have to have buses for the morning and afternoon routes, and the buses are too tall for some of the maintenance facilities at the Westover garage. In many cases, diesel heaters have to be installed because heaters have become too heavy for the batteries.

“The buses cost twice as much, they go half as far, and they have about half the life of a conventional bus because of the battery life, and that’s most of the expense of the vehicle,” Smith said. “And we would have to buy more of them to provide the service we do all day long.”

Three buses are ready to go, and a fourth will be purchased for the test. The vehicles will replace buses that have reached the end of their service lives at a cost of $135,000 plus $24,500 to install the Roush Clean Tech Ford 450 propane conversion kit. The conversion kit is approved by the government, making it eligible for federal grants.¬†Additionally, with propane they don’t have to install an expensive specialized electrical charging system.

“I’m not spending hardly any more than we would have for a gas or diesel vehicle,” Smith said. “We had the infrastructure put in by the company providing the propane, so we didn’t pay for the tanks to come in, and we’re not paying for the software to tell when to fill it or maintain it.”

With current technology, Smith said Mountain Line would not likely ever move to a 100-percent fleet of propane vehicles. The propane technology available is not adequate to efficiently run the heavy-duty class of buses.

“If we determine that propane is the way to go, then most of our light-duty buses will probably become propane, but we would never convert our entire fleet to propane,” Smith said.

The four test buses will have a distinctive color scheme that is currently being applied.

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