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New Regional District of Nanaimo transit buses to run on natural gas

Ron Cantelon, Parksville-Qualicum MLA, addresses the crowd during Friday’s announcement, watched by Dennis Trudeau, Regional District of Nanaimo general manager of transportation. The RDN will see 25 new buses running on compressed natural gas added to its fleet. - NIOMI PEARSON/The News Bulletin
Ron Cantelon, Parksville-Qualicum MLA, addresses the crowd during Friday’s announcement, watched by Dennis Trudeau, Regional District of Nanaimo general manager of transportation. The RDN will see 25 new buses running on compressed natural gas added to its fleet.
— image credit: NIOMI PEARSON/The News Bulletin

The Regional District of Nanaimo was the natural choice for B.C. Transit’s first compressed natural gas (CNG) fleet of buses, said Manuel Achadinha, president and CEO of B.C. Transit.

On Friday, the regional district, along with B.C. Transit, announced the addition of 25 new CNG buses which will be in service by spring 2014.

B.C. Transit is looking to replace about 35 per cent of its fleet (approximately 1,000 buses) over the next five years and considered several communities to pilot the new buses, such as Kamloops and Victoria.

In the end, they were looking for a community with a larger fleet (more than 25 buses) that was already looking to replace its aging fleet, that had both infrastructure and community support in place.

“With Nanaimo, you put a tick by all of those things, and that’s what made a very easy choice for us,” Achadinha said. “This is the latest in fleet innovation and we’re really proud to be doing it in Nanaimo.”

The RDN’s fuelling station, which was completed last year, was built with the possibility of hosting CNG in the future, and over the next eight months, will be outfitted to support two diesel and two CNG pumps. The approximate cost to put the new infrastructure in place will amount to approximately $1.5-2 million.

“Overall, this new fleet is an excellent fit for us in terms of our strategic priorities, absolutely an excellent fit and great value to all the residents in the regional district of Nanaimo,” said RDN board chairman Joe Stanhope.

Compressed natural gas is a cleaner burning fuel which puts out approximately 30 per cent fewer greenhouse gas emissions without the price volatility of other fuels such as diesel.

“It’s inexpensive; I would go so far as to say it’s cheap, so it’s a great idea to use it in our buses,” said Parksville-Qualicum MLA Ron Cantelon, during Friday’s announcement at the RDN Transit Centre.

In addition to their environmental advantages, CNG buses run quieter than diesel engines.

“You still have tire noise, you still have wind noise, but in general the bus should be quieter,” said Steven Wiebe, senior project engineer for B.C. Transit.

Weibe explained that the compressed gas is contained in 21 cylinders built into the roof of the bus. Contained at 3,600 psi, about four litres of compressed gas takes up the same amount of space as one litre of diesel.

“The only thing you’re going to see different is the roof is going to be a little bit higher because all your storage tanks are up on the roof,” he said.

B.C. Transit is currently in the process of awarding the contract to build the buses, and hopes to have that finalized by the end of the month.

To help offset the initial costs associated with the purchase of the new CNG buses, FortisBC will provide funding of up to $937,500. The money represents 75 per cent of the cost differential of CNG over its diesel comparators. In addition, both B.C. Transit and the RDN will kick in $6 million.

According to Dennis Trudeau, general manager of Transportation, the 25 buses will replace some of the 43 vehicles in its fleet.

“We’ll take out the old ones that are smoking a lot, or making a lot of noise, or their maintenance cost is too high – they would be our higher polluting buses – and put in these very clean, efficient, quiet CNG buses. It’s going to be great for the community,” he said.

The RDN has been striving for a better working relationship with B.C. Transit for several years, leading the charge on an independent review of the entity in 2012.

Stanhope said communication between the RDN and B.C. Transit has improved 100 per cent since that time.

On Mar. 3, the regional district launched the first 5,000 hours of a near 9,000- hour transit expansion.

For more information, please visit www.rdn.bc.ca.

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