Natural Gas – Conversions, Vehicles and Technology

Kansas City Gets Motivated to Use Natural Gas

November 2011, Green Fleet Magazine - Feature

by Shelley Mika - Also by this author

Today, the city of Kansas City, Mo., fleet's CNG units total about 8 percent of its roughly 3,000 vehicles, including 209 light-duty, 10 medium-duty, and 56 heavy-duty vehicles.
Today, the city of Kansas City, Mo., fleet's CNG units total about 8 percent of its roughly 3,000 vehicles, including 209 light-duty, 10 medium-duty, and 56 heavy-duty vehicles.

At a Glance

The City of Kansas City, Mo., has a more than 14-year history with CNG units:

  • 1997: Began CNG pilot program with just 12 vehicles and a partnership with Missouri Gas and Energy to fuel up at its stations.
  • 2001: A large Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality grant expanded the program to 40 CNG-powered vehicles and its own fueling station.
  • 2006-2008: CMAQ grants followed at roughly $500,000 a piece, for a total of $3.4 million over seven years.
  • 2010: Awarded an American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grant of $4.03 million.

The geography of Kansas City, Mo., presents a duality of demands on its fleet. As a metropolitan center, it requires the mobile resources needed to maintain a bustling city. But, the sheer size of its metro area also requires heavy travel, as some units see cross-town use.

These are just a few of the reasons Sam Swearngin, fleet administrator for the City, keeps a careful eye on the fuel budget, and looks to alternative fuels to improve efficiency and reduce vehicle emissions.

However, what really began the fleet’s compressed natural gas (CNG) program were environmental concerns, both at the federal and local levels.

Environmental Motivations

In 1990 and 1992 respectively, the Clean Air Act and the Energy Policy Acts originally mandated that government fleets would be required to use alternative fuels. As such, Kansas City began studying the costs and benefits of CNG, ethanol, methanol, and propane autogas. CNG emerged as the cheapest and cleanest choice.

Bolstering the City’s faith in CNG as a smart option was an American Medical Association presentation Swearngin and his colleagues attended, which depicted graphic views of the effects low level ozone has on children’s lungs. Knowing the switch to CNG could help Kansas City’s own problem with low levels of ozone in the summer, they decided to pursue CNG because of the benefits to the environment and, in turn, their public.

“Starting out, diesel prices dropped, so CNG wasn’t any more affordable of an option. Through the ’90s and early 2000s, we really did it for purely environmental reasons,” Swearngin said. “We wanted to do everything we could to improve the air quality for our City.”

Grants Grow the Program

The CNG pilot program began in 1997, with just 12 vehicles and a partnership with Missouri Gas Energy to fuel up at its stations. Then, in 2001, a large Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant allowed the program to expand to 40 CNG-powered vehicles and its very own fueling station. CMAQ grants in 2006, 2007, and 2008 followed at roughly $500,000 a piece, for a total of $3.4 million over the course of seven years.

Thanks to a $4 million-plus grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2010, the City's CNG program was able to expand to its current total of approximately 275 CNG units. The grant was the largest single source of funding the fleet ever received.
Thanks to a $4 million-plus grant from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) in 2010, the City's CNG program was able to expand to its current total of approximately 275 CNG units. The grant was the largest single source of funding the fleet ever received.

While these grants kept the program up and running, and grew it to some 80 vehicles, the City had a hard time expanding it in a more profound way. First, CNG units have high up-front costs and second, Kansas City’s sprawling metro area requires fueling stations be located near where units are nested. Both individual units and new stations were needed to expand the program, but neither was a possibility until more grant funding could be garnered.

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