A diesel bus on the hoist at Coast Mountain Bus Co.'s Surrey Transit Centre. TransLink officials say natural gas buses that were notoriously costly to maintain have greatly improved in recent years.

TransLink says natural gas buses now beat diesels

Preference based on fuel cost savings, engine improvements

TransLink officials are defending their plan to buy 170 more natural gas-powered buses over the next three years, saying fuel cost savings and improved technology now make them better than diesels.

A compressed natural gas (CNG) bus burns less than $20,000 per year in fuel compared to $40,000 for a diesel, Coast Mountain Bus Co. fleet manager Dave Leicester told Metro Vancouver directors March 12.

Leicester sought to better justify TransLink’s preference for CNG buses going forward after earlier criticism from some skeptical Metro politicians, who suspect the province has applied pressure because it wants to launch a huge liquefied natural gas industry.

Most of Coast Mountain’s 1,340 buses are diesels, but there are about 50 CNG buses based mainly in Port Coquitlam, as well as 262 electric trolley buses that run mainly in Vancouver.

Early CNG buses that arrived in the 1990s and 2000s were plagued by costly maintenance problems.

But Leicester said since 2008 CNG bus engines are better and more reliable, have greatly reduced emissions and better hill climbing – a major shortcoming of earlier models.

Modern diesels, meanwhile, have become more complex due to stiffer requirements for pollution controls such as particulate filters.

“We refer to it as a chemical factory that has to be carried behind the engine to clean it,” he said.

Burnaby Mayor Derek Corrigan said he remains doubtful, based on TransLink’s “disastrous” early experience with CNGs, that they’re worth the money if they result in higher costs of maintenance, parts and training.

“It’s not a sensible way to operate a transit system,” Corrigan said of splitting the fleet into too many fuel types.

He said diesels are still the most flexible type of bus that can be deployed anywhere in the region.

CNG buses cost more – about $485,000 each compared to $410,000 for a new diesel.

They also require specialized CNG fueling stations, which are to be built in Surrey and Richmond so future natural gas buses can run there as well.

Corrigan said TransLink is betting natural gas will continue to be the cheaper fuel in the future, when that’s not certain.

Fuel prices are a risk, Leicester said, but added TransLink’s estimates are conservative and the natural gas price advantage could get even bigger, not smaller.

He denied there’s pressure from Victoria for CNGs, but confirmed it did happen before.

“I will say in the past we’ve had political pressure,” Leicester said, but noted major cities in Alberta and Ontario are also now switching back to CNG buses after previously abandoning them.

BC Ferries is also moving to power some of its ferries by natural gas.

TransLink isn’t phasing out diesels – it will continue to buy them as well.

But Leicester said all-electric zero-emission fuel cell buses are too costly at more than $1 million per bus, not counting the need for costly charging technology on their routes.

The last compressed natural gas buses TransLink bought were these low-floor models in 2006. image credit: TransLink

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

It’s election day in B.C. (Black Press files)
It’s Election Day in B.C.: Here’s what you need to know to vote

B.C.’s snap election has already broken records for advance voter turnout, mail-in ballots

B.C. Green Party leader Sonia Furstenau outlines her party's climate action platform at Nanaimo's Vancouver Island Conference Centre earlier this month. (News Bulletin file photo)
Green leader Furstenau declared victor in her home riding on Vancouver Island

Cowichan Valley voters elect freshly minted party leader for her second term

John Horgan has been re-elected the MLA for Langford-Juan de Fuca. (File-Black Press)
Horgan trounces challengers to be re-elected in his Vancouver Island riding

MLA has represented constituency of Langford-Juan de Fuca and its predecessors since 2005

Sven Spichiger, Washington State Department of Agriculture managing entomologist, displays a canister of Asian giant hornets vacuumed from a nest in a tree behind him Saturday, Oct. 24, 2020, in Blaine, Wash. Scientists in Washington state discovered the first nest earlier in the week of so-called murder hornets in the United States and worked to wipe it out Saturday morning to protect native honeybees. Workers with the state Agriculture Department spent weeks searching, trapping and using dental floss to tie tracking devices to Asian giant hornets, which can deliver painful stings to people and spit venom but are the biggest threat to honeybees that farmers depend on to pollinate crops. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Crews vacuum ‘murder hornets’ out of Washington nest, first-ever in U.S.

The nest found in the city of Blaine near the Canadian border is about the size of a basketball

Upgrades underway at the Sunnyside Reservoir, adjacent to Sunnyside Acres Urban Forest, raised concerns among some residents Tuesday (Oct. 20), however, stewards of the park say everything went off without a hitch. (Tracy Holmes photo)
‘No issue’ with South Surrey reservoir drainage, despite trail user concerns: urban forest steward

Forest visitor taken aback by ‘unprecedented flooding’ of trails

B.C. provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry gives a daily briefing on COVID-19 cases at an almost empty B.C. Legislature press theatre in Victoria, B.C., on March 25, 2020. (Don Craig/B.C. government)
B.C. sees 223 new COVID-19 cases, now 2,009 active

Two new care home outbreaks in Surrey, Burnaby

Canada’s Chief Public Health Officer Theresa Tam responds to a question during a news conference Friday October 23, 2020 in Ottawa. Canada’s top physician says she fears the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths may increase in the coming weeks as the second wave continues to drive the death toll toward 10,000. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada’s top doctor warns severe illness likely to rise, trailing spike in COVID-19 cases

Average daily deaths from virus reached 23 over the past seven days, up from six deaths six weeks ago

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

Join Black Press Media and Do Some Good

Pay it Forward program supports local businesses in their community giving

BC Hydro map showing where power has been knocked out is dotted with over a dozen outages. (BC Hydro map screenshot)
Thousands without power in Lower Mainland on election day

One outage in Langley and Surrey is affecting over 4,000 customers

file
One dead after fiery crash near Agassiz

Agassiz RCMP report a 56-year-old man died Friday night

The possibility of the Canadian Premier League expanding to the Fraser Valley has been floated online. (Facebook photo)
Canadian Premier League possibly eyeing Fraser Valley expansion

Soccer league looking to add ninth team to the mix, B.C. markets potentially rumoured

Most Read