Senior Traveler service implements CNG fleet vehicles

Celebration slated for Wednesday, November 3, 2015, at 11:00 a.m.

October 29, 2015

GARFIELD COUNTY, CO – Two new compressed natural gas (CNG) vans are entering service for the Garfield County Senior Program Traveler system. Roaring Fork Transportation Authority (RFTA) and Garfield County received several grants for them, and the county provided supplemental funding as well. The two vans are 14-passenger vehicles, which provide service to senior citizens and disabled travelers in the county.

An event is planned November 3 at 11:00 a.m. to celebrate placing the new CNG vans into service with the Traveler program, which will replace two aging vans in the fleet. The public is invited and welcome for the event, planned in front of the Garfield County Administration Building at 108 8th Street, Glenwood Springs.

RFTA and the county obtained the vans through an extensive partnership. Each van cost $95,623, with just over $63,000 of that amount provided by the Colorado Department of Transportation (CDOT) using Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Section 5311 funding. In addition, nearly $16,500 was provided through the Colorado Department of Local Affairs (DOLA) Alternative Fuels grant program for the CNG engine technology, and approximately $16,000 was provided by Garfield County for each van.

To ensure a competitive cost and an efficient procurement of the van cutaway vehicles, RFTA purchased them via the Colorado Mountain Purchasing Consortium (CMPC) Agreement, a collaborative effort between RFTA, Eagle County and 11 other public transit and human service transit providers in Colorado and New Mexico. The CMPC effort was led by Kelley Collier, currently RFTA’s chief operating officer, when she was the director of ECO Transit, along with Kenny Osier, RFTA director of vehicle maintenance.

David Johnson, RFTA director of planning, assisted in applying for the CDOT/FTA funding, and says, “The amount of collaboration on this project was unprecedented and demonstrates what can be achieved when governmental entities work together.”

“This fits into our overall goals, one of which is to support compressed natural gas use in our community,” said Garfield County Commissioner Tom Jankovsky. “This uses some of the natural gas produced in our community to support the natural gas industry locally, rather than exporting it. In addition, we benefit from less emissions, less volatile pricing, and it’s a way to support three CNG fueling stations in our county in Parachute, Rifle, and Glenwood Springs. We have also seen how effective CNG has been for the RFTA buses as well.”

Judy Hughes exits the Traveler van at a Senior Programs meal site. Driver Tucker Thomson assists seniors.

The formula for determining RFTA’s operating cost for a gas gallon equivalent (GGE) of CNG is complicated because it includes several variables, such as the cost of the natural gas, the cost of electricity to compress the gas, and the operations and maintenance cost on the compressor station. RFTA’s estimate of the operating cost per GGE of CNG is approximately $1.71, whereas RFTA’s average fixed-price contract cost per gallon of unleaded fuel in 2015 is $2.82 and it will be $2.31 in 2016. RFTA’s operating cost for a GGE does not include an allocated share of the annual debt service for the compressor station and fueling and maintenance facility, which would add about $1.11 per GGE to the fuel price, bringing the all-in GGE cost to $2.82. However, for the past two years, RFTA has received a $0.50 federal excise tax credit on every GGE it uses and, if this credit is continued by Congress in 2016, the net price of a GGE, even with allocated capital costs included, would be about the same as the cost of unleaded fuel, i.e. $2.32. If gasoline prices rise above $2.82 per gallon in the future, RFTA believes the all-in cost of natural gas, even without the federal excise tax credit, should be less than unleaded fuel, just as it was a few years ago.

“RFTA is attempting to transition as much of its fleet as possible to natural gas because it is an abundant and affordable domestic source of fuel,” said Jason White, RFTA assistant planner, who applied for the alternative fuels’ funding. “CNG provides a hedge against higher diesel and gasoline prices, and also provides RFTA with the security that it can obtain fuel for its fleet in the event of a natural or manmade crisis that could result in gasoline and diesel fuel price spikes or rationing.”

The two new Traveler vehicles have been fitted with two-way communications radios and “solid-mount” Samsung Galaxy tablets, utilized for Route Match scheduling software. “We also plan to equip both vans with wheelchair tie down tracks, enabling Traveler drivers to load and secure larger mobility devices,” said Rich Burns, Traveler manager. “At present we have two clients who could travel together in single van trips, which we are unable to do with the current tie-down configuration, due to the dimensions of their mobility devices. That will help us to be a lot more efficient in the future.”

“We are very excited for these service vehicles to be in use for our seniors,” said Judy Martin, Garfield County Senior Programs director. “There is a lot of interest in the operation of natural gas vehicles among our seniors, and we are so glad that the grants and collaboration have successfully led to these vehicles being put into service here!”

The Traveler serves towns in Garfield County and its service area perimeter extends to a five-mile radius from the I-70 corridor spanning between Parachute and Glenwood Springs. Similarly, it also serves a five-mile radius in the Highway 82 corridor between Glenwood Springs and Carbondale. Traveler provides service from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, excluding holidays. Traveler has two vehicle bases of operation, one at the Senior Center in Rifle located at 50 Ute Avenue and the other at 1517 Blake Avenue in Glenwood Springs. Dispatching is provided primarily out of the Glenwood office/terminal for both vehicle bases.