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Supervisors vote on whether to buy buses that burn natural gas or diesel

By: Gus Thomson Journal Staff Writer
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Placer County supervisors could be switching gears today when they vote to buy five new diesel-powered buses. Using $2.8 million in funding that includes $1.1 million in federal economic stimulus money, the county is poised to purchase the five buses from struggling Shaumburg, Ill. company Motor Coach Industries. The purchase could signal a shift away from a decade-old move toward cleaner burning natural gas. Each of the buses will be 45-feet long, with a 57-passenger capacity. Their size is part of the reason the county is considering going with diesel power. Public Works Director Ken Grehm said in a report to the Board of Supervisors Tuesday that the diesel purchase would be a change from the county’s practice over the past decade of buying compressed natural-gas-fueled buses. The largest compressed natural-gas bus measures a shorter 40 feet in length and seats from 40 to 43 passengers. Grehm said ridership was averaging 42 passengers in February and between last December and February, 21 percent of the route’s runs were at maximum capacity. “Power is another issue,” Grehm said. “The compressed natural-gas buses are able to climb the Interstate 80 grade with a load of passengers at about 50 mph, which increases travel time to commuters, making it less convenient and attractive of a service.” Grehm added that the new diesel buses will use engines meeting very strict 2007 requirements. The county is also using federal congestion mitigation, state bond and its own capital reserve funds for the purchases. Grehm said that a recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing by Motor Coach Industries shouldn’t discourage the board. Risk will be minimal because payment will not be made until buses are delivered and accepted by Placer County, he said. Motor Coach Industries outbid Coachworks Holdings for the contract. The two are the only U.S. companies known that make 45-foot commuter coaches and meet the 60 percent Buy America requirement of the Federal Transit Administration. Delivery time is 240 days. The Journal’s Gus Thomson can be reached at gust@goldcountrymedia.com.