The Riverside Transit Agency (RTA) has provided public bus services to Western Riverside County since 1977. RTA operates more than 160 buses on 36 fixed routes and 8 commuter routes. They also use 98 Dial-A-Ride vehicles, and 10 trollies. Their service area is among the nation’s largest, covering 2,500 square miles of Riverside County, California. In 2001, RTA took a major step by converting its entire fleet of 94 diesel buses to Compressed Natural Gas (CNG), despite the buses costing $50,000 more than their diesel counterparts. Early in 2014, RTA replaced its first CNG fleet with a larger set of 97 brand-new 42-foot CNG buses. So why are they so committed to CNG?
CNG is one of the most widely used alternatives to gasoline and diesel here in Southern California. It is the same stuff that runs your stove or heats up your hot water at home, but when compressed and used in vehicles it provides a distinct advantage. CNG burns cleaner than gasoline and contributes to a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. It is also considerably less expensive than gasoline (about $1.18 per gallon average in 2014). These are some of the reasons why RTA uses this fuel in their buses. According to Brad Weaver, Marketing Manager for the transit agency, “Our use of CNG fuel not only saves the environment, but it saves the Agency nearly $2 million a year in fuel cost, compared to diesel.” CNG is also a domestically produced fuel –between 80% and 90% of the CNG used in the US comes from the US.
CNG is primarily extracted from the ground, but can also be created from Renewable Natural Gas (RNG). RNG is produced from landfills or anaerobic digesters, and is a product of the breakdown of organic matter. Back in July 2014, waste hauler CR&R began construction of what will be the largest anaerobic digester facility in North America. The Facility, located in Perris, CA, will process green waste collected from customers, and will produce RNG. The hauler operates a fleet of natural gas collection vehicles, and plans to use fuel produced from the first phase of the project to power about 70 of its vehicles. Eventually, CR&R hopes to be able to inject the fuel directly into the local natural gas pipeline.
If CNG has so many benefits, why is it not in use by broader set of drivers, rather than just in fleets? One of the major challenges to wide-spread adoption of CNG is the lack of infrastructure and consumer CNG-fueled vehicles. It is easy for fleets to go back to their yards at night and fuel up, but not so easy for consumers to find a filling station. There is also an incremental cost associated with buying CNG-fueled vehicles, as they can cost thousands of dollars more than their gasoline counterparts. These challenges are gradually being addressed, as agencies such as the California Energy Commission offer funding for CNG and other alternative fuel projects, and organizations such as Clean Cities work to educate the public about the benefits of these fuels.
How do you think the benefits of CNG stand up to the challenges? If a CNG vehicle was available for your purchase would you choose it over a gasoline or diesel counterpart? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
Credits: Images provided by Riverside Transit Agency. Data linked to sources.