SMTD approves plan for reduced emissions fleet
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (WCIA) — The Sangamon Transit District Board of Directors on Monday approved a plan to incorporate zero-emission buses into its fleet to replace aging diesel buses in the fleet.
The SMTD currently operates 34 diesel buses and 22 compressed natural gas buses. The plan foresees the gradual replacement of diesel buses by hybrids, then the introduction of buses powered by hydrogen fuel cells.
“Since adding compressed natural gas buses to our fleet in the mid-1990s, SMTD has been a leader in Illinois in operating low-emission buses,” said Steve Schoeffel, General Manager of SMTD. “With 40% of our fleet running on CNG, we plan to replace our diesel fleet with diesel-electric hybrids, which will make our fleet completely low-emissions over the next ten years.”
For redundancy, the SMTD plans to always use at least two different fuel types in the event that a disaster or emergency eliminates a fuel source. The district said that unless a good alternative to CNG emerges, part of the fleet will remain powered by CNG in the future.
“We are still planning studies to determine our next alternative fuel, but early research shows that hydrogen fuel cell buses (HFCBs) may be better suited to our fleet, operations and local climate,” Schoeffel said. . “Any alternative fuel vehicle we decide to use will be more expensive than diesel or CNG buses, and will require refueling infrastructure. At the moment, we are leaning towards HFCBs, and we should be able to make a more concrete decision in the next few years.
SMTD said cost estimates for HFCBs exceed more than $1 million per vehicle, nearly double the current cost of a diesel vehicle. However, the district believes that the reduced environmental impact in local neighborhoods will be a benefit. The high cost is also the reason why the district is evolving in a “measured and deliberate” way.
“We anticipate growing service requirements and higher operating costs in the future, so we want to avoid imposing an unsustainable fleet replacement plan on our successors,” Schoeffel said. These decisions are decisions of a quarter of a century or more, and we will be as efficient as possible with the taxpayers’ money for which we are responsible.
Much of the funding for the fleet transition is expected to come from federal grants.