Photo courtesy of Chad Felton and the News-Herald News.
Aging population demand more efficient service
As Dial-a-Ride ridership continues to grow alongside Lake County’s aging population, Laketran is aggressively trying to find ways to make the service more efficient. One of those strategies is transitioning the 85 bus Dial-a-Ride fleet from diesel fuel to propane.
General Manager Ben Capelle explained, “There’s some expenses we can’t cut. You can’t cut labor cost without cutting service, so we need to get a little more creative. Tightening standards for emissions and shrinking budgets have been driving the transportation industry toward alternative fuels now more than ever before and so propane is one of our solutions.”
“By operating propane-fueled buses we’re reducing our fuel expenses by 35% and saving on maintenance expenses,” explained Capelle.
Propane is a clean burning fuel due to its low carbon content and significantly reduces smog forming hydrocarbons and greenhouse emissions, over gasoline and diesel fuels. Additionally, propane is American-made reducing independence on foreign oil.
In 2017, Laketran also added two new, smaller 8-passenger Dial-a-Ride buses, Turtle Top VT3’s, to the fleet. The accessible bus is equipped with a wheelchair lift, safety cameras, electronic fare box, GPS-enabled automatic vehicle locators, plus radios and rangers.
“We have spent the last six months testing both our traditional Ford E-450 and new VT3 model to prepare for purchase of replacement vehicles,” shared Capelle. “Both our drivers and customers have had positive feedback on how they operate.”
Board approves purchase of propane vehicles
At the Monday, January 22 Laketran Board of Trustees meeting, the board approved the purchase of 11 replacement vehicles, including six additional VT3 model buses.
“We’re replacing 8 year old vehicles with 200,000 – 250,000 miles on them,” explained Capelle. “There’s significant maintenance savings when you can operate newer vehicles so we’re continuously looking for capital funding for replacement vehicles.”
Piecing together federal grants that can fund up to 80 percent of vehicle purchases, Laketran is relying on Federal Transportation Administration’s Enhanced Mobility for Seniors and Individuals with Disabilities program that provides capital grants for transit agencies to meet the needs of seniors and individuals with disabilities and Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grants that provide federal funding for statewide transportation projects in urban areas of Ohio that need to improve congestion and air quality.
Both these programs are administered through Northeast Ohio Areawide Coordinating Agency.
Laketran will award a contract to Oregon, OH based TESCO bus for the purchase of 11 propane buses at a cost of $1,301,756 and expects the buses to be in operation by late summer 2018. The local 20 percent match is paid through Laketran’s local sales tax levy.
“By end of 2018, we should have 35% of our Dial-a-Ride fleet transitioned to propane with 30 propane buses on the road. Our original goal was to transition the fleet in five years, but at this replacement pace we may see the cost savings even sooner,” explained Laketran board president Brian Falkowski. “If we can find a way to operate more efficiently and environmentally friendly, we’re going to push to do that as soon as possible.”
Dial-a-Ride is Laketran’s door-to-door, shared-ride service primarily used by seniors and people with disabilities, but is open to the general public. Dial-a-Ride is provided throughout Lake County and to limited medical facilities in Cuyahoga County and includes special programs such as Veterans Medical Transportation and Medicaid Non-Emergency Transportation.