Utah Considers Compressed Natural Gas Buses for State-wide Fleet

The natural gas surplus in Utah, and the high levels of air pollution, make the state a prime candidate for natural gas burning vehicles.  The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) had the same idea back in the 1990s, when they put a fleet of natural gas buses in place to help cut back on emissions due to public transportation.  Unfortunately, the environmentally responsible buses weren’t rugged enough to stand up to the high altitude and mountainous terrain.  The UTA pulled the plug on the efforts in favor of pursuing clean diesel or hybrid alternatives.

Compressed natural gas (CNG) technology has advanced significantly since the 90’s, and several UTA board members are ready to give the locally produced fuel another try.  They’ve secured two buses from Los Angeles and Phoenix to run and evaluate for performance.  The test will continue for the next two weeks.  If these new buses have enough pickup to maintain speed along Utah’s steep roads, the UTA will integrate similar buses into their fleet.  The bus replacement would happen gradually over four years.

CNG buses would lower NOx emissions and also reduce the cost of public transportation for the residents of Utah.  The standard $2 fares were increased to $2.25 at the start of August to help cover the cost of fuel.  Diesel prices have skyrocketed recently, exceeding $3 per gallon.  The natural gas sold in Utah sells for just $1.52 per gallon equivalent.  Given the money that could be saved, UTA Chairman Greg Hughes remarks, “I just don’t see a downside.”

Before the CNG buses can be put into place, they have to pass the ongoing performance test.  They are currently operating along two different routes – 3900 South and Highland Drive/1300 East.  Members of the Utah Clean Cities Coalition are working in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to collect the necessary data.  Geographical information collected by the bus systems in Utah is being uploaded to a DOE lab in Denver that specializes in alternative fuels.  There, a team of researchers are duplicating the performance tests indoors where emissions can be closely monitored and sampled.  The DOE will then generate a report, detailing exactly how clean these CNG buses are in practice.

Clean Energy officials applaud the UTA for its efforts not only with CNG vehicles, but also with the diesel-electric hybrid buses that they have already begun using.  Utah is quickly becoming the role model for clean fleets of public transportation vehicles.