More environmentally friendly transit system could cost up to $4 million

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As diesel fuel prices increase, Calgary alderman Andre Chabot hopes to convert Calgary Transit’s bus fleet from diesel to compressed natural gas engines.

“As the chairman of [the standing policy committee on] land use, planning and transportation, there’s a number of different initiatives that are brought to my attention on a regular basis, and this one in particular is one that I had my eye on for some time,” Chabot said.

Chabot said he looked at the initiative from many different aspects, including operational improvements and efficiencies, as well as environmental implications.

Ron Collins, spokesperson for Calgary Transit, said that Calgary Transit took it upon itself to consider and research converting its bus fleet from diesel fuel to natural gas back in February.

Collins said switching to natural gas is quickly becoming an “economically attractive” decision due to the rising price of diesel.

“There are economic and social and environmental benefits to using natural gas,” Collins said. “And we’re thinking that this might be a good time to get into it because we feel that there’s been some substantial improvements in terms of the compressed natural gas dedicated engines.”

Calgary Transit

Calgary Transit buses could switch to natural gas if a motion is passed by city council Nov. 7.

Photo by: Arielle Berze By switching to natural gas, airborne contaminants such as carbon particles would be reduced by 97 per cent, as well as a 30 per cent reduction in greenhouse gases and a significant reduction in sulfur dioxide, Chabot said.

According to Collins, the switch would reduce carbon dioxide gas emissions by 46,000 tons annually. The bus fleet, which includes more than 1,000 buses, consumed 26 million litres of diesel fuel in 2010, costing $21 million.

Calgary Transit estimates it would save approximately $6 million a year if the bus fleet were to switch to natural gas.

However, there are concerns being raised about the switch.

“We have to look at where we’re going to pump it from,” said Collins. “Is it going to be in a separate station, or is it going to be a part of one of our facilities?”

Whether to convert the present fleet of buses, or if newer buses that are already equipped to use natural gas will be bought, is also a concern, said Collins.

“They [city council] will have to make the ultimate decision as to whether we do that or not because there [are] funding implications.”

Calgary Transit’s report on switching from diesel to natural gas will go to city council Nov. 7. Chabot expects the measure to pass easily.

The city’s aldermen will then review how much it will cost, and where the funds would come from.

Chabot said he was not looking to add money to the budget, but rather to reallocate funds within the transportation budget from sections including maintenance, repair, and replacement.

“Somewhere within those envelopes I’m looking for $4 million to reallocate for the purpose of converting from diesel to natural gas,” Chabot said.

Gizette Calixte, a regular transit rider, said that because the price of natural gas is lower and more stable than diesel, switching to compressed natural gas engines would be beneficial in the long run.

“The emissions are less. I think people would feel more confident taking public transit,” Calixte said.

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