Control Maintenance Costs on Multiple Fuel Fleets

Fort Myers, Fla.

Bob Southall

Maintenance Manager


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 Southwest Florida transit agency’s 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 of 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 tracks performance and has found that, on average, the hybrids’ efficiency is 2 mpg better than the non-hybrid fleet. This is better than we were led to expect, and better than our peers in Florida are reporting.

With a year of history, we have found that 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 has 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, maker of the hybrid propulsion system in LeeTran’s vehicles.

“Safety has to be stressed” when working on a hybrid because of its high voltage and high amperage. I highly recommend including Allison training for mechanics in the purchase price of your vehicles.

Santa Monica, Calif.

Ryan Erickson

Project Director

Gladstein, Neandross & Associates

Increasingly, transit agencies throughout North America are moving part or all of their revenue fleet from diesel to natural gas—most commonly compressed natural gas (CNG). The motivation is simple—natural gas is $1 to $2 less than diesel on a diesel gallon equivalent, which can add up to significant savings over the life of the vehicle. As an added benefit, natural gas buses emit significantly lower particulate matter than diesel buses, 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. Though it might seem practical to build in enough CNG compression capacity to meet the future needs of your growing fleet, the purchase and maintenance of too many compressors will leave you with unused equipment that still must be maintained. Instead, consider leaving adequate room onsite to expand your station when fleet size increases.

Maintenance Outsourcing: When a transit agency either does not have the resources to complete the maintenance work in-house or their 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. Additionally, agencies that are willing to commit to longer contract lengths (e.g., 10 years versus 3 years) are generally able to obtain lower maintenance rates. It is important for agencies to ensure that contracts clearly lay out expectations, as ambiguities in contract language may result in uncertainty over which party is responsible for certain expenses. All-inclusive maintenance plans are common and typically provide more peace of mind, as they essentially include an extended warranty and insurance. This comes at a higher cost in most cases.

Staff Training

With the right training, agencies that complete most or all of the work in-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. It is also important for the agency to maintain close relationships with equipment manufacturers, as they will be necessary to ensuring that a station operates smoothly.

Though operating both natural gas and diesel fueling stations will result in increased maintenance costs for the agency, keeping these tips in mind will help transit agencies ensure they are getting the most bang for their buck.

Peoria, Ill.

Anna Buehrer

Director of Marketing and Public Relations

Greater Peoria Mass Transit District (CityLink)

In 2009 the Greater Peoria Mass Transit District (CityLink) in Peoria, Illinois was approached by regional farm cooperative AgLand FS to test the viability of using B20 biodiesel fuel year-round.  B20 is a biodiesel blend made from new and used soybean oil and other by-products.  According to the American Lung Association, biodiesel fuel reduces greenhouse gas emissions by 78% when compared with diesel, “helping to protect human health, the environment, and the economy.”

Faced with an aging fleet and needing to reduce emissions, CityLink entered into the trial with AgLand FS. Over a period of two and half years, CityLink used B20 fuel continuously in approximately 85 buses.  According to AgLand FS the test, using CityLink’s fleet at the time, resulted in an increased fuel efficiency of 8.5% and a financial savings of approximately 25 cents per gallon.

In a recent interview with the American Lung Association, John Anderson, CityLink Assistant General Manager of Maintenance spoke about B20 biodiesel.  "Our experience with B20 and just biodiesel in general has been fantastic because of the clean burning and reduction in emissions,” Anderson. “We switched to B20 year-round.  In older vehicles it helps improve the performance a little bit, gets rid of the smoke, and helps lower emissions.”

Starting in 2011 and over a period of 18 months, CityLink replaced its fleet with new buses and currently has 58 buses in the fleet.  In 2012, after a competitive bid process, CityLink entered into a long-term fuel contract with AgLand FS for biodiesel fuel.  According to CityLink’s maintenance staff, the B20 biodiesel burns clean which maintains optimum engine performance and reduces dirt and debris in the fuel system.

“The clean-burning biodiesel combined with the efficient fuel system technology on our new fleet has resulted in less time and money spent on tune-ups, engine re-builds and changing of injectors,” said Karl Stone, CityLink’s Director of Fleet Maintenance.  “In addition, the buses do not emit the fumes that create an unpleasant experience for our passengers and other commuters, and are environmentally harmful.”

CityLink has also been successful in using B20 biodiesel during extreme weather conditions.  According to the National Weather Service, the winter of 2013-2014 will go down in the record books as the snowiest winter for the Peoria area.  The performance of the biodiesel fuel, combined with inside bus parking and underground fuel tanks, enabled CityLink’s buses to make pull out every day of service and without mechanical problems, such as clogged filters, which can be an issue with the use of diesel fuel in extreme cold temperatures.

“Overall we are pleased with using the B20 fuel in our fleet,” says Anderson.  “Not only does it perform well, but it is sourced locally and that helps our regional economy.”

Gulfport, Miss

Kevin Coggin

Executive Director

Coast Transit Authority 

Coast Transit Authority has been providing public transportation services for the Mississippi Gulf Coast since 1975. Like many other transit agencies our 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 in determining the type of engine and type of fuel it will use. Each type of fuel has its pros and cons regard to the cost of the fuel and the cost to operate the fueling facilities. We operate seven dual fuel vehicles (gas/propane), which allows us the option to use whichever fuel is the cheapest at the time of refueling that vehicle. Our cost per mile for fuel in the  vehicles that operate on propane fuel 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. This allows lower costs for fuel and no expense for facility maintenance. We maintain a propane fueling facility on site. Propane fuel 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.     

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 their traditional diesel vehicles. This is the case for Flint Mass Transportation Authority (MTA) in Michigan.

Each year, Flint MTA transports nearly 470,000 passengers through its paratransit service. Seniors, persons with disabilities and the general public rely on the MTA’s “Your Ride” curb-to-curb shuttle bus service within the City of Flint and Genesee County. 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. Flint MTA has experienced even greater savings, paying $1.21 per gallon for propane autogas compared to $3.20 for gasoline. Flint 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 Flint 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 cents per mile for gasoline and 41 cents per mile for diesel.

In addition to fuel savings, the agency experiences lower maintenance costs by fueling with propane autogas. 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 Flint 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.

This increase in the number of alternatively fueled Your Ride shuttles will help to further decrease fuel and maintenance costs for Flint MTA.

Salem, Ore.

Gregg Thompson

Maintenance Manager

Salem-Keizer Transit

Salem-Keizer Transit has a mixed fleet of thirty-four CNG and thirty diesel buses, operating on compressed natural gas and b5 diesel, respectively. Our award winning 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 CNG 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 running compressors. 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.

Pilot Projects

  • Currently conducting a pilot project reprogramming bus transmission settings to alter shift points with the hoped for outcome of realizing 2-3 percent better fuel economy in every bus.
  • Over the course of 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. If successfully implemented, re-refined oil will reduce use of virgin oil.


  • Salem-Keizer Transit’s bus purchasing policy was recently modified and ratified by the board of directors to prioritize purchases with the greatest long-term economic and environmental benefits to the community (rather than lowest up-front cost).
  • All district non-revenue vehicles (cars available for work related staff trips, Operations Supervisors road-call vehicles and maintenance trucks and vehicles) must utilize hybrid technology, saving money on fuel and reducing emissions.