Clinton Township — SMART on Thursday unveiled a fleet of new propane-powered buses for its popular paratransit Connector fleet designed to save more than a million dollars in fuel and maintenance costs.

The suburban transit agency has already introduced 14 of the 23-foot vehicles that cater to those with disabilities and elderly with door-to-door service and by July will have a total of 61 new Connector buses on the road, official said.

“The thing that people really love about SMART is the connector service,” said John Hertel, the general manager for SMART at a news conference at its Macomb Terminal. “That is the one that really reaches out and brings people in so many instances to situations where they just couldn’t get to them because it’s a customized service.”

SMART officials say the new propane buses will save nearly $1.7 million over the lifetime of the fleet. Propane vehicles, they say, significantly lower fuel and maintenance costs and solve emissions issues that were a problem with diesel buses.

The $4.8 million cost of the vehicles was entirely funded through three federal grants, officials say, and it takes about a week to convert a gas bus to “autogas” — an industry term for vehicles operating on propane.

Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing for Livonia-based Roush CleanTech, which helped SMART with the propane conversion, said propane powers 23 million vehicles worldwide and is becoming the option of choice for transit agencies looking for more efficiency and cost savings.

“This is absolutely the right decision” to go with propane for agencies such as SMART, Mouw said, and that “there’s absolutely no downside from a cost perspective, from an emissions perspective. It’s clean; it’s safe.”

The Suburban Mobility Authority For Regional Transportation is now the second largest propane-powered fleet for paratransit in the state behind Flint and one of the largest in the country, officials say.

SMART is also expecting to replace 234 of its regular buses over three years after voters last year approved a millage to fund the then cash-strapped agency.

Hertel said the regular diesel buses will not be converted to propane because the technology is not available for large buses and the bus terminals would need a significant upgrade to meet those needs.


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Twitter: @leonardnfleming

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