Buses will convert to natural gas in the Regional District of Nanaimo

The RDN replaced 25 diesel buses with a fleet of new CNG buses and now the board is hoping to replace the remaining diesel buses

Transit may soon operate solely on what Joe Stanhope is calling the “fuel of the future.”

At last Tuesday’s Regional District of Nanaimo committee of the whole meeting, the board voted to replace 24 diesel buses with Compressed Natural Gas (CNG) buses. The vote will be ratified at the next regular meeting slated for Sept. 29.

“I certainly think it’s an excellent idea because of the experience we’ve had with CNG buses,” said Stanhope, chair of the RDN board. “There’s been good feedback from the riders — they’re new, comfortable, they’re just nice buses, I’ve ridden in them.”

In March last year, the RDN replaced 25 diesel buses with a fleet of new CNG buses and now the board is hoping to replace the remaining diesel buses as well.  According to a staff report, replacing the remaining diesel buses with CNG buses would have a wealth of benefits including: improved air quality through reduced green house gas emissions, reduced particulate emissions, lower fuel costs and quieter engines.

However, CNG buses are approximately $50,000 more expensive than diesel buses and although CNG fuel is less expensive than diesel it requires 10 to 30 per cent more fuel than diesel.

Moreover, replacing the remaining 24 diesel buses with CNG buses would result in an entire fleet of CNG buses and any technological issue or unexpected costs that may arises would have widespread effects.

This project would also require an additional CNG compressor costing about $590,000.

But Stanhope maintains making the switch is “the right thing to do at the right time.”

B.C. Transit has agreed to reimburse the RDN for 46.7 per cent of the cost of the new buses and for one additional compressor. Fortis B.C. has also stated they will provide 50 per cent of the incremental difference of $40,000 per bus contingent on B.C. Transit and Fortis B.C. entering into a contribution agreement by the end of this month.

If the RDN does not move forward in replacing the remaining diesel buses with a CNG fleet, the regional district will still be required to replace the existing diesel buses over the next two to three years due to their age.