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Amtran asked to plan for buses

In 2018, Amtran received money from PennDOT and the Federal Transit Administration to buy 16 new Compressed Natural Gas buses, as part of a PennDOT initiative to promote the state’s natural gas industry.

That same year, the FTA authorized an additional grant — contingent on funding from PennDOT — for seven more CNG buses in 2021.

Now, PennDOT is asking Amtran to plan for three additional CNGs in 2024 — with the continuing presumption they’ll be fully funded — so by then, Amtran’s entire 26-bus fleet should be powered by natural gas.

“In six years, (we’ll) go from zero CNGs to all 26,” said Amtran General Manager Eric Wolf on Wednesday, after a board meeting at which he explained the acquisition plans.

In 2017, the average age of the authority’s fleet was 19.3 years — an average inflated by six 40-year old GMC buses that Amtran used for its school tripper service.

In 2021, after it receives its next seven CNGs, the average age of the fleet will be 2.9 years, according to a fact sheet Wolf distributed at the meeting.

PennDOT is providing 57 percent of the $3.9 million needed for those 2021 buses, while the FTA is providing the rest of the money — with both grants pending, but fairly certain, according to Wolf.

Funding for the 2024 buses is less certain, but PennDOT wants Amtran to propose the purchase be added to the 2021 Transportation Improvement Plan that will be developed by the local Metropolitan Planning Organization, a joint group comprising officials from PennDOT and municipalities in Blair County, according to Wolf.

There should be little problem securing MPO approval, as the project won’t be competing for money with any other local project, Wolf agreed.

The 16 CNG buses in use by Amtran so far have proven to be reliable, according to Wolf.

“We’re very pleased,” he said, while acknowledging that they all haven’t been perfect.

The 2021 influx will replace five 2000 Gillig low-floor diesels and two 2005 standard-floor diesels, according the fact sheet.

The 2024 CNGs would replace three 2012 Gillig diesel-electrics.

Of the 26-vehicle fleet, 16 are “fixed-route” and 10 are trippers, according to the fact sheet.

Diesel-electric is current technology, pointed out Amtran Chairman Scott Cessna.

Still, none of the bus retirements that have occurred or that are projected will be of buses less than 12 years old — the age at which diesels, diesel-electrics and CNGs are said to have reached the end of their usefulness, Wolf said.

Overall, PennDOT’s CNG initiative has provided new CNGs to 30 transit systems across the state.

“We all needed new buses anyway,” Wolf said.

All the transit systems also got CNG fueling stations, some of which are open to the public, which should help make ownership of CNG vehicles more practical.

Amtran’s fueling station is not open to the public, but the authority’s use of CNG buses may still help promote the growth of the industry, according to Wolf.

“This is a way of showing, ‘hey, this works,'” to companies that might be considering fleet conversions, he said.

Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 949-7038.

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