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Natural gas buses not yet practical for School District 60

While other school districts in the province are starting to embrace natural gas powered buses, the new technology may be a distance away for School District 60. Transit Supervisor Mike Fitzgerald recently attended a seminar in Kelowna, where 13 Central Okanagan School District buses have been converted to run on natural gas.

The vehicles use converted diesel engines, which run on natural gas.

Transit Supervisor Mike Fitzgerald says he might be interested in the future, but that it is not practical at this time. Currently, only 84-seat buses are available, with more to come. While there are already plans for two new buses that size in the next capital plan, it doesn't yet make sense.

"We probably wouldn't be looking at more 84-passengers for another four to five years, so to have just two buses on it is another drawback for us," he points out.

Even if all styles of buses were offered, it could take 7 to 8 years before all the entire 24 bus fleet needs replacing, and maybe longer as some are new.

Natural gas powered buses come at a upfront cost of approximately $45,000, which would be the School District's responsibility, without help from the government. A natural gas pump in the maintenance yard would likely be necessary as well, and those can cost between $500,000 and $1.2 million to install. Kelowna also convinced a natural gas supplier to install a natural gas pump in its yard, and the District here could try to make a deal with Pacific Northern Gas to build a pumping station, but at this point, Fitzgerald doesn't believe the cost is practical.

It's expected that cost of each bus would be paid back in 7 years, as natural gas costs half of what gasoline or diesel does. However, Fitzgerald points out that estimate is based on the extremely low price of natural gas right now, and could go back up. He adds that PNG was also in attendance at the meeting, and has expressed interest in speaking with the district.

"It's an interesting concept," says Fitzgerald, "and I do believe that down the road you could probably see a lot more vehicles converting and being built for natural gas."

In the end, the School Board feels it needs more information, and that it may make sense to wait until the liquefied natural gas industry is up and running in the province.