Macon County Case Study
Macon County Transit — Franklin, N.C.
Macon County Transit is based in Franklin, North Carolina, at the foot of the Smoky Mountains. The 16-vehicle fleet was started in 1997 and provides transportation via scheduled routes in Franklin, door-to-door service for rural county residents, and round trips to medical facilities in Asheville, nearly 70 miles away. The agency was at the mercy of ever-changing gasoline prices.
CHALLENGE & SOLUTION
Since switching the majority of its fleet to propane autogas in 2016, the transit department has saved money on fuel, contributed to a cleaner environment in the Smoky Mountains, and improved the fleet’s refueling process.
- Owning its propane autogas refueling infrastructure allows the department to accept the lowest bid from local propane retailers.
- The department saves an average of $0.50 on each gallon of propane autogas compared with gasoline.
- Productivity increased for drivers who no longer need to wait in line at commercial refueling stations.
A QUICK CONVERSION TO PROPANE AUTOGAS
Macon County Transit Director, Kim Angel, first learned about propane autogas bi-fuel systems built by ICOM Alternative Fuel Systems at a state transit association conference. With gasoline prices often higher in the mountains, she was intrigued by propane autogas’s lower cost-per-gallon.
With the help of grant funds from North Carolina’s Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration, the department converted four of its existing Ford transit vans and purchased nine new bi-fuel Ford transit vans. With those grants, Angel said approximately 90 percent of the fleet’s initial costs were covered by the state.
And since converting to the alternative fuel in 2016, a gallon of propane autogas has averaged at $0.50 less than a gallon of gasoline.
Installing an on-site refueling station and 1,000-gallon tank has helped the fleet save money and time. The department owns its refueling infrastructure, which allows it to bid out its fuel contract to the multiple propane retailers in the area. On-site refueling also makes refueling the vehicle tanks fast and easy as part of the daily routine, eliminating the time drivers spend waiting in lines.
A contract with their propane retailer also ensures fuel is available at all times. Much of the county’s gasoline fleet purchased from the same commercial gas stations as consumers, and the fuel supply didn’t always meet demand.
“One of the problems that we did run into with one of the gas stations that we use, is that they would run out of gasoline sometimes,” Angel said.
PROPANE IS BETTER FOR THE COMMUNITY, RIDERS, AND DRIVERS
Angel said that although she was first intrigued by the financial advantages of using propane autogas, as a lifelong resident of Macon County situated in the iconic Smoky Mountains, she was also sold on the fuel for its environmental benefits. Propane autogas vehicles produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to harmful ground-level ozone.
“To look up and to see that cloudy smog, the days when the mountains just aren’t as clear as they used to be, it does really start making you think about it.”
Macon County Transit Director
“You really think about it when you’re driving along and you look up,” she said. “To look up and to see that cloudy smog, the days when the mountains just aren’t as clear as they used to be, it does really start making you think about it.”
Angel said using propane autogas is a way for the fleet to give back to the community by improving the environment.
The propane autogas vehicles were also easy for drivers to learn. ICOM’s bi-fuel system will automatically switch back to gasoline if the vehicle uses up its propane autogas. For drivers, this removes any concerns of running out of propane autogas on a long route.
Drivers were able to easily pick up on refueling with propane autogas. The on-site station uses Quick-Connect refueling nozzles, which feel nearly identical to refueling with gasoline or diesel nozzles. The refueling stations also use the same fuel card and pin that drivers use for filling with gasoline.
“It was easy to adapt and they didn’t have to learn something new,” Angel said.
LONG-TERM BENEFITS FROM PARTNERSHIP WITH ICOM
One of the reasons drivers were able to pick up on using propane autogas so quickly was because of the fleet’s partnership with ICOM. When the company converted the fleet’s vehicles, they sent a project engineer to help set up the fleet with the right infrastructure and refueling programs from the get-go.
Angel said the transit department’s partnership with ICOM was the foundation for its success with propane. Macon County’s staff had no knowledge of propane autogas systems prior to the adoption of the vehicles, and the company helped them each step of the way. ICOM trained a local auto mechanic shop to repair and maintain the propane autogas vehicles, eliminating any potential issue for the fleet and keeping repair services accessible within the county.
“I would recommend it over and over again,” Angel said.