Those who depend on bus transit to get around Williamsport and Lycoming County can now ride on a bus that is powered by compressed natural gas.
"This is really awesome," said Carl Eiswerth, of Old Lycoming Township, a daily rider of River Valley Transit buses at the unveiling Friday afternoon of the first compressed natural gas bus in city history.
Eiswerth and others outside the terminal at Trade and Transit Centre near Pine Street noticed the bus didn't have smelly fumes.
River Valley Transit unveiled the first compressed natural gas bus in city history on Friday.
"The bus emits pure water vapor," said John Kiehl, assistant general manager of River Valley Transit.
The event was considered monumental enough to hold a blue ribbon-cutting ceremony with a focus group affiliated with the design of a compressed natural gas fuel station under development at River Valley Transit garage, 1500 W. Third St.
"This is a momentous occasion," said William E. Nichols Jr., general manager of River Valley Transit, who added the $500,000 bus was paid for through a $400,000 grant from the federal Highway Transit Administration, a grant for $85,000 from the state Department of Transportation and $15,000 in city capital funds.
For Nichols, the bus and use of the alternative source of fuel, ideally will supplant diesel and is a historical marker in the evolution of local transportation and use of alternative fuel sources.
"In 1865 the trolleys started, and buses in 1933," he said. "Today is the first compressed natural gas bus for River Valley Transit and use of alternative fuels."
Nichols said he anticipated River Valley Transit will save $500,000 a year in fuel cost annually by using the buses. "It is about 50 cents per gallon versus about $3.50 per gallon for diesel fuel," he said.
On the trip from the California factory, the bus had to get fuel at Illinois before arriving in Pennsylvania.
"That gives you an idea of how far it can run without fueling up," Nichols said. He expected the bus
to run for two days on trips in the county before requiring the tanks to be replenished with fuel.
In October, a first phase of the River Valley Transit compressed natural gas fueling facility was completed with installation of a slow-fill option in advance of the design and construction of the speedier fill fueling station. Slow-fill takes about eight hours, and the quick-fill is as one would fill up at the gas fuel pumps, Nichols said.
Lycoming County Commissioner Jeff Wheeland sent a text message to Patrick Henderson, Gov. Tom Corbett's energy executive about the bus.
"That's awesome," Henderson text back.
Lt. Gov. Jim Cawley also was on Wheeland's speed-dial.
Mayor Gabriel J. Campana, who rode the bus with three of his daughters, said it is an example of the stakeholders' commitment to continue to make the city the energy capital of the state and to set a model for third-class cities that are trying to save costs on fuel and protect the environment by burning less carbon emissions.
Andy Rohrer, a marketing representative with UGI, a natural gas provider, said there is no way to determine if the gas used in the bus comes from wells drilled in the Marcellus Shale. However, Rohrer said, there is a Transcontinental (Transcon) gas line running through the county that is tapped into.
Dominick Bragalone, selected as River Valley Transit bus driver of the year, manned the wheel.
"He's the best driver, really friendly," Eiswerth said of Bragalone. "Everytime I ride with him he makes people smile and he makes them feel safe, following the speed limits and helping elderly at the bus stops," Eiswerth said.
Bragaolone, a bus driver since 2001, said he has noticed ridership increasing over the years as fuel costs continue to trend upward, not dropping below $3 per gallon. "You can see more people keeping their cars at home," he said.
Bob Schurer, a mechanic at the company since 1986 who was chosen River Valley Transit mechanic of the year, said the technology involved in keeping the buses running will require additional training and be a learning curve for himself and the other mechanics.
It's going to take some transitioning, Nichols acknowledged of the technology and the glitches that come with something new. The bus is the first of four the city is ordering for a growing fleet, he said.
On the inaugural ride, most of those seated said the noticed the smoothness of the bus. Four tanks fixed on the top of the bus hold a combined 300 gallons of the gas. The fast-fill and slower-fill fuel tank acess areas are beneath a panel on the side toward the rear of the bus.
The snazzy colored bus with green trip and words plugging the use of cleaner burning fuel is equipped with the chair lifts to assist riders such as Lewis Finzel, of Catherine Street, who uses a wheelchair.
He didn't ride the bus with the dignitaries, but Finzel smiled as Bragalone lowered the lift so he could easily board the bus before the start of the tour.
Finzel seemed to consider the day to be worthy of wanted have his picture taken near the bus.