Control Maintenance Costs on Multiple Fuel Fleets

Fort Myers, Fla.

Bob Southall, Maintenance Manager, LeeTran

It’s been just over a year since LeeTran took delivery of 24 diesel-electric hybrid buses, and their performance has exceeded all expectations.

The fixed-route fleet is now 50 percent hybrid, and it’s on track to save as much as 270,000 gallons of fuel a year.

We trained all our drivers in the skills needed to get the best performance from a hybrid vehicle. Keeping it in hybrid mode as much as possible is key to maximizing our fuel savings. We also trained them to use the regenerative braking correctly.

We continually track performance and have found that on average, the hybrids’ efficiency is 2 mpg better than the non-hybrid fleet.

With a year of history, we have found the hybrids can log about 200,000 miles between brake jobs, compared to 30,000-50,000 miles for vehicles without regenerative braking.

While preventive maintenance requirements are the same, we have found that the more complicated electronics make the vehicles more technically abstract for trouble-shooting and repairs.

Initially, six of the agency’s mechanics attended hybrid familiarization training. Three others are attending state-sponsored training with a trainer from Allison Transmissions.

Safety has to be stressed when working on a hybrid because of its high voltage and high amperage.


Livonia, Mich.

Todd Mouw, Vice President of Sales and Marketing, Roush CleanTech

Fleet managers across the county recognize the need for integrating alternative fuels into their fleets. Whether it’s to reduce emissions or save money on fuel and maintenance costs, fleets are looking at alternative fuels as viable solutions to replace traditional diesel vehicles. This is the case for Mass Transportation Authority in Flint, Mich.

Each year MTA transports nearly 470,000 passengers through its paratransit service. As the fleet of shuttles aged, the MTA took the opportunity to explore alternative fuels. The agency selected the Roush CleanTech Ford E-450 cutaway and currently operates 72 propane autogas buses.

Historically, propane autogas costs up to 40 percent less than gasoline and about 50 percent less than diesel. MTA has paid $1.21 per gallon for propane autogas compared to $3.20 for gasoline. MTA expects to save $70,000 per vehicle during their normal lifecycle of 10 years and 350,000 miles, for a total savings of more than $5 million.

According to Edgar Benning, general manager of MTA, propane autogas is the ideal fuel to drive down operational costs and to carry out the MTA’s commitment to reducing exposure to unstable imported fuel prices.

A recent MTA analysis during a one-month period of time showed the agency paid $.12 per mile for propane autogas compared to $.39 per mile for gasoline and $.41 per mile for diesel.

In addition to fuel savings, the agency experiences lower maintenance costs. Their propane autogas vehicles require just six quarts of oil compared to 16 quarts for their diesel vehicles, with oil changes needed every 7,000 miles compared to 4,000 for their diesel shuttles. Plus, the filter packages for propane autogas are priced two-thirds less than the diesel filters. A team of MTA employees received initial training with the fuel and now operates a maintenance facility for servicing the propane autogas vehicles and training new hires.

These successes have led MTA to plan for more alternative fuel growth, with a goal of 60 percent reduction in diesel usage by 2018. The MTA plans to operate five propane autogas fueling stations and purchase 20 more minibuses for a total of 92 propane autogas vehicles.


Santa Monica, Calif.

Ryan Erickson, Project Director, Gladstein, Neandross & Associates

Increasingly, transit agencies are moving part or all of their revenue fleet from diesel to natural gas — most commonly CNG. The motivation is simple. Natural gas is $1 to $2 less than diesel, which can add up to significant savings over the life of the vehicle. Additionally, natural gas buses emit significantly lower particulate matter than diesel, which helps improve community air quality.

While substantial fuel savings can be realized, it’s important for transit agencies to plan for the installation cost for CNG fueling equipment, as use of a public access station is generally not a viable option for transit operations. Maintenance costs for the added refueling infrastructure also come at a higher price tag than diesel fueling infrastructure. When planned correctly, there are many ways a transit agency can mitigate these costs.

Facility Sizing

Constructing a properly sized station will help ensure that an agency is not paying more than necessary. When a station is fully utilized, maintenance costs decrease as station throughput increases so that the total price per gallon is at its lowest point possible.

Maintenance Outsourcing

When a transit agency either does not have the resources to complete the maintenance work in-house or its staff is not adequately trained to work with CNG technology, CNG station maintenance is often contracted out to a third party. In many instances, the maintenance contract is awarded to the company that built the transit agency’s fueling infrastructure, as lower prices can be negotiated in exchange for the larger contract scope.

Staff Training

With the right training, agencies that complete most or all of the workin-house may see reduced overall station maintenance costs. Inspections are the most expensive component of a maintenance contract and completing some or all of this work in-house will result in significant cost savings. When this is possible, it will be helpful to include a component in contracts with station maintenance providers requiring the training of agency staff on the installed equipment.


Gulfport, Miss.

Kevin Coggin, Executive Director, Coast Transit Authority

Like many other transit agencies, Coast Transit Authority’s biggest financial challenge is to generate adequate self-generated and local subsidy funding to match federal grants. Local government operating subsidies are in decline. Controlling and minimizing maintenance and operating costs is critical to the financial health of the organization. At $650,000 a year, fuel is our second highest operating expense behind labor costs. The frequent fluctuation in fuel prices makes it very difficult to control current costs and project future expense.

We operate a diverse fleet of light, medium and heavy-duty buses and vans that use gasoline, diesel and propane fuels. The operating cost for fuel is considered in each type of vehicle that we purchase. Each type of fuel has its pros and cons in regard to the cost of fuel and fueling facility operation. We operate seven dual-fuel vehicles (gas/propane), which allows us the option to use whichever fuel is the cheapest at the time. Our cost per mile in the vehicles that operate on propane averages 20 percent less than our gasoline or diesel-powered vehicles. Propane is our fuel of choice, but unfortunately the dual-fuel engines are not available in the larger buses.

We are fortunate to be located on the Gulf of Mexico where there is an abundance of raw fuel supply and refineries. This allows reliable access to the various fuels we need and fuel that is generally lower in cost compared to other regions of the U.S.

We maintain a diesel fueling facility on site, which controls costs by allowing us to bid fuel buys from major regional suppliers. The diesel facility is very reliable and requires minimal maintenance at very little expense. We fill gasoline vehicles off site at various Fuel Man network outlets in the area, which allows lower costs for fuel and no expense for facility maintenance. We maintain a propane fueling facility on site. Propane is generally more price stable than gas or diesel. The propane fueling facility is provided and totally maintained by the fuel supplier at no cost to CTA.

Utilizing various types of fuels and fueling infrastructure helps CTA maintain some level of control over operating and maintenance costs in a high cost area of the budget.


Salem, Ore.

Gregg Thompson, Maintenance Manager, Salem-Keizer Transit

Salem-Keizer Transit has a mixed fleet of 34 CNG and 30 B5 diesel buses. Our maintenance team has taken a number of innovative measures to reduce costs.

When buses were observed regularly returning to the yard with partially full CNG tanks, the fill pressure was reduced from 3,500 to 3,200 PSI, reducing the time needed to fill a tank and the energy load on the fueling station. Modified CNG bus fueling procedure reduces electrical costs by more than $1000/month.

Reducing fill pressure for CNG tanks enabled maintenance to shift from three running compressors, to two. Of the four total compressors on site, two are in use and two cycle off on any given day, reducing electricity needs and extending compressor life.

Soft start software has been installed on fueling compressors that reduces energy demand compared with a traditional delta start.

The district maintenance department performs in-depth oil analysis during each preventative maintenance inspection. Oil samples are laboratory tested for quality and viscosity and preventative maintenance inspection intervals are adjusted accordingly, decreasing demand on maintenance staff, reducing oil use, and allowing buses to operate for a longer period of time between inspections.

Frequent tire inflation checks on fleet ensure optimal operating conditions for fuel efficiency.

We are currently conducting a pilot project reprogramming bus transmission settings to alter shift points anticipating 2-3 percent better fuel economy.

Over the last year, Salem-Keizer Transit has been performing in-depth testing regarding use of re-refined oil. Initial rounds of testing indicated an increased amount of wear metals, so the district is testing a second type of re-refined oil with a different additive package to reduce use of virgin oil.

Our bus purchasing policy was recently modified and ratified by the board to prioritize purchases with the greatest long-term economic and environmental benefits to the community, rather than lowest up-front cost.

All non-revenue vehicles must utilize hybrid technology, saving money on fuel and reducing emissions.

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