WAVE Transit adds two compressed natural gas buses to fleet

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One of the two compressed natural gas buses at the Castle Hayne WAVE facility. The hump on the top of the bus houses the compressed natural gas.
One of the two compressed natural gas buses at the Castle Hayne WAVE facility. The hump on the top of the bus houses the compressed natural gas. Staff photos by James Mieczkowski.

Wilmington’s WAVE Transit recently added two new compressed natural gas (CNG) buses, and with City Council recently approving more than $300,000 in additional funding, the transit authority expects to receive four more buses by the end of the year.

WAVE transit’s new $13.5 million Castle Hayne facility, which was finished in February and will become populated by bus drivers and staff within the next few weeks, is the hub for the CNG buses and is capable of fueling up to 20 CNG buses at one time.

Cape Fear Public Transit Authority Executive Director Albert Eby said the transition to natural gas was mainly due to how much more cost-efficient it is to fuel the buses. Currently it costs the transit authority $2.07 for a gallon of diesel fuel, while natural gas, if it stays at its current rate, will cost less than a $1 per gallon.

“Depending on the cost of fuel, we spend about 18 percent to 22 percent of our budget on fuel every year, which comes out to roughly between $900,000 to $2 million per year,” Eby said. “So if you can imagine cutting that cost in half, we’ll be able to really save some hay.”

The Castle Hayne facility is equipped with a $1 million CNG fueling station, which Eby said was initially expensive to create, but he estimates the pay back will be less than three years if the price of compressed natural gas stays the same.

The cost of riding the bus will stay the same with fares still ranging between $1-$2.

The WAVE fleet also contains two hybrid buses, but Eby said they just haven’t seen the fuel economy they were hoping for and they’re expensive to maintain. The compressed natural gas buses, which are about $453,000 per bus, are about the same cost as a diesel bus and just as easy to maintain for his technicians, he said.

“The plan is to order about four more buses per year for the next four years, which would give us 18 total large CNG buses,” said Eby.

In a recent public information report, city officials said they expect about 57,000 more people will live in Wilmington over the next 20 years.

“In the long term, we’ve established a new facility that will handle a much larger transportation need,” said City Councilman Kevin O’Grady, who serves on WAVE Transit’s board. “As years go by and the demand for public transportation increases, we believe that we’ll be able to handle these demands in a cost-efficient manner while also being environmentally friendly.”

The debate continues over how environmentally conscious the extraction methods of natural gas really are, but Eby stated that the CNG burns “significantly cleaner than fossil fuels” and that “with these two buses we’ll be tracking and monitoring how well we do with fuel economy.”

As for the price of natural gas in the future, Eby expects “it will remain consistent for a long time, rather than petroleum-based fuels, which have always been incredibly volatile.”

Albert Eby inspects the  fueling station where the natural gas becomes compressed for use in the buses.
Albert Eby inspects the fueling station where the natural gas becomes compressed for use in buses.