Miami-Dade Transit

Miami-Dade Transit may convert buses to natural gas

Miami-Dade Transit is exploring options to convert its fleet of 817 Metrobuses from diesel to compressed natural gas, department director Ysela Llort said.

“One of the things we are going to be looking at is changing our bus fleet to CNG,” Llort, the MDT director, said recently in a speech to Spanish business executives in Miami. “[County Mayor Carlos Gimenez] believes the time has come to get rid of diesel and to get on with something that is an American product, that is a green product, and that can impact our fuel costs.”

Llort’s statement marks the most significant development in Metrobus service in Miami-Dade since former U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood traveled to Miami a year ago and delivered a $10 million grant to MDT to replace some of the diesel buses with hybrid diesel-electric vehicles. LaHood made the announcement three days before MDT opened its Metrorail line to Miami International Airport.

Though MDT officials said they could not provide additional details yet, Llort said in her July 11 speech that initially the department plans to acquire up to 300 CNG buses as part of its bus replacement plan in the coming years, along with the infrastructure required to fuel and maintain the CNG vehicles.

“In our case in Miami-Dade Transit what it would mean is the garages would be converted from diesel to CNG, “ Llort said. “It’s a substantial package, and we’re interested to see what the private sector can offer.”

Miami-Dade Transit is looking at current trends of public-private partnerships within the industry, MDT officials said.

Llort did not say how much the conversion would cost. The Utah Transit Authority (UTA), which has begun a CNG conversion plan, said in June that it began receiving the first 10 of 24 new CNG buses at a cost of about $450,000 per vehicle. That’s about $50,000 more than the average cost of a diesel bus, according to UTA general manager Michael Allegra, who was quoted in The Salt Lake Tribune.

More than 35 percent of public transportation buses in the United States now use alternative fuels such as CNG or hybrid (electric-diesel) systems, according to the American Public Transportation Association, whose figures for early 2011 showed that 18.6 percent of transit buses nationwide ran on CNG, liquefied natural gas and blends.

Llort said MDT would issue an “intent to negotiate” package asking for proposals, but did not say when the package would go out. Llort spoke during a meeting of the Spain-U.S. Chamber of Commerce held at the offices of the Greenberg Traurig international law firm in Miami.

CNG is natural gas compressed to less than 1 percent of the volume it generally occupies. Compressed natural gas combustion produces greenhouse gases like Diesel and other fossil fuels do, but experts consider CNG cleaner.

The Metrobus fleet carries the bulk of riders transported everyday by MDT which also operates the elevated train services known as Metrorail and Metromover. Of the more than 300,000 passengers who use the three transit services, more than 200,000 ride the buses on average on weekdays.

MDT is a department of Miami-Dade government. It is considered the 15th largest transit department in the United States, and the largest in Florida.

Read more Miami-Dade stories from the Miami Herald

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