Kansas City rolls in a new era of transit with compressed natural gas fueling station

08/27/2014 12:05 PM

08/27/2014 7:53 PM

The fueling of the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority’s bus in less than seven minutes Wednesday might not seem too impressive, but it signified major changes for the transit agency.

“Today is the official start of the compressed natural gas era for transit in Kansas City,” Dick Jarrold, the KCATA’s vice president of regional planning and development, said at the opening of its new compressed natural gas fueling station.

“Today we fueled our first CNG bus officially from this fast-fill station,” he said. “We are looking forward to converting our entire fleet to compressed natural gas over time.”

The $3.2 million fueling station at the ATA’s facility at 1200 E. 18th St. is the largest fast-fill compressed natural gas station in Missouri and the Kansas City region. It is able to fill buses in less than seven minutes, which will enable the ATA to eventually fill more than 200 buses nightly.

The ATA now has a fleet of 17 compressed natural gas buses and will receive eight more next month. The transit agency hopes to add 15 new buses to its fleet every year.

The ATA’s board two years ago adopted a policy to only buy compressed natural gas buses. By moving from diesel to natural gas, the ATA expects to save $500,000 in fuel next year and up to $4 million per year once the fleet is fully converted over the next 12 years.

“One of the primary reasons we are making this conversion is to save fuel costs,” Jarrold said. “We also view this as one of the first steps in perhaps converting the entire regional fleet to alternative fuels, compressed natural gas being one of those.”

He said he would like to work with Johnson County Transit to convert their fleet to compressed natural gas, not only because it would save money but also because it’s a domestic fuel and it provides an environmental benefit.

“Natural gas is a cleaner-burning fuel, so we will have fewer emissions coming from our buses as we convert the fleet to compressed natural gas,” Jarrod said.

For the most part, passengers won’t notice much of a difference, except the buses are quieter and cleaner.

“You won’t see any black smoke coming out of these buses,” he said. “They are cleaner-burning.”

Mokhtee Ahmad, Region VII administrator for the Federal Transit Administration, called it an amazing facility.

“When I first came in through the gates and saw this, I thought, ‘Wow, we are finally going to go green here in Kansas City,’” he said.

For a long time, the problem of using compressed natural gas as a fuel was the lack of infrastructure in place to fill the buses, Ahmad said.

“I’m looking forward to riding those quiet buses and also seeing the buses filled in less than seven and a half minutes,” Ahmad said. “I think we have overcome that problem, and maybe we will see CNG used more and more in the other systems we have in our region.”

To reach Robert A. Cronkleton, call 816-234-4261 or send email to bcronkleton@kcstar.com.

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