Lafayette will be one of only two areas in the state using natural gas-powered buses when the new vehicles hit the streets later this year, according to an industry group that has been promoting the fuel as a cheaper and cleaner-burning alternative to gasoline.
Lafayette’s five natural gas-powered buses arrived in June and will be in service after the installation of a specialized fueling station that should be online in the next month or so, said Dana Gradney, city-parish government transit supervisor.
Larger cities across the country have been shifting to natural gas for municipal bus service in recent years, but Lafayette is only the second area in Louisiana to join the trend, following the SporTran bus service in Shreveport/Bossier City, said Gifford Briggs, vice president of the Louisiana Oil and Gas Association.
Briggs has been the point man in LOGA’s initiative to promote natural gas as a vehicle fuel.
The natural gas industry is working to find new markets for a supply of natural gas that has outpaced demand as new drilling techniques opened vast reserves, including the Haynesville Shale in north Louisiana.
Using a homegrown fuel that supports the local economy is one attraction to natural gas, said Gene Eddy, general manager of Shreveport’s SporTran bus service.
But, Eddy said, natural gas also offers potential savings on fuel bills and a cleaner burning alternative to gasoline at a time when local governments are facing stricter federal air pollution standards.
“It’s the cleanest emission of any system we’ve got,” Eddy said.
Lafayette is capitalizing on the clean aspect of natural gas in its marketing of the new buses, which are decorated with large green leaves on the sides and the phrase “fueled by nature.”
“Because the buses were moving to (natural gas), we wanted a new look,” Gradney said.
She said Lafayette plans to convert its entire fleet of 21 buses to natural gas in the next 10 years, replacing the older diesel buses at the end of their useful life.
In Shreveport/Bossier City, the first natural gas buses started rolling in April, Eddy said.
He said nine more of the new buses are on their way, and SporTran plans to convert its entire fleet by 2020.
It is too early to tell whether SporTran will initially save a significant amount on fuel, Eddy said.
But he expects to see the savings grow in the coming years after the entire fleet is converted and all the related conversion expenses are covered, including the higher price for the new buses and modifications to the repair shop to handle a different type of engine.
The conversion has been made attractive because some of the upfront costs, such as roughly $1.25 million for a natural gas fueling station, have been funded in Lafayette and Shreveport/Bossier City with federal grants that support alternative fuel efforts.
Briggs said LOGA is hoping to find a receptive audience in other cities in the state, considering that natural gas is selling for about $1.50 less for the gaseous equivalent to a gallon of diesel.
“The price of oil is going to continue to climb, and we have an overabundance of natural gas,” Briggs said.