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Hamiltonjumps on natural gas buses

 By Kevin Werner, News staff

 After a few stops and starts,Hamiltonpoliticians agreed to spend $15 million for 18 natural compressed gas buses to replace aging diesel vehicles, plus replace a natural gas compressor at the Mountain Transit Centre.

“This will fulfill our needs,” said Don Hull, transit director.

Politicians initially remained skittish about paying such a large amount of money for the 60-foot natural gas vehicles, but there were taking a “leap of faith” in transit staff’s argument Hamiltonwill eventually reap the financial benefits. Politicians also were uncomfortable about building the natural gas facility on the mountain, then turning it over to Union Gas, seeing little boost for the city.

But transit staff showed that Hamiltonwill eventually benefit from both projects.  Hullsaid at the May 22 public works committee meeting the city will save about $1.9 million over the next two years through the natural gas bus purchase. Over 20 years the city will save about $41 million, say staff.  Buying diesel buses will cost about $8.7 million.

Hamiltonswitched to diesel buses in 2004 at the advice of city staff because of the better cost of diesel fuel. But over the last few years diesel has spiked in cost, while natural gas has remained relatively cost effective. Other North American municipalities have been investing in natural gas buses eyeing the potential long-term cost savings.

About 35 of the city’s 221 buses operate on compressed natural gas. City staff said it could take until 2015 to receive the new diesel buses.

Politicians are scheduled to vote on the recommendation at their May 28 council meeting.

Hullsaid the plan next year is to purchase another 17 natural gas, 40-foot buses in 2015 to update its fleet.

A 40-foot bus accommodates about 75 riders, while a 60-foot vehicle can squeeze in about 100 people.Hullsaid those articulated buses will be deployed on heavily traffic routes including Barton Street and King andMain streets.

Meanwhile, staff defended a proposed agreement with Union Gas that will see the city pay $3.6 million to the company. Union Gas will eventually own the facility after the estimated 20-year agreement ends. The current compressor at the centre was built in 1984 and is nearing its lifespan, said Geoff Lupton, director of energy, fleet, traffic. He said the city could save about $1 million over the life of the contract.

Hullsaid the city will recoup all of the cost to invest in the buses within a three and a half year period.

Hullsaid time was critical to make the purchase because already a few buses have been pulled from service and have yet to be repaired because the cost was prohibitive.

“There is a significant time pressure,” said Hull.

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