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Improving the quality of life

March 13, 2015
Medical transport company finds propane autogas a perfect fit for fleet

Vehicle reliability is a key metric for any fleet. Too much downtime saps profits. But for a fleet that specializes in the medical field, it can be more than just money; it can be the lifeline its clients need.

That critical uptime metric covers everything from driver availability to vehicle maintenance, and even the type of fuel used. Gasoline and diesel fuels represent safe choices—they are abundant and readily available. Salem, OR-based Willamette Valley Transport (WVT), though, chose a more cost-effective fuel for a portion of its 30-fleet vehicle of paratransit vans: propane autogas.

“We’re in a position now where I can pay cash for new vehicles instead of financing,” says founder Tim McClain. “Overall, the decision to convert [to propane autogas] has allowed us to accelerate our growth, and this year we’re growing a lot in Portland, about 25% to 30% more than last year.”

According to McClain, the conversion of 14 vehicles to propane autogas power two years ago resulted in a $60,000/year savings in fuel costs.

WVT services an area along a 120-mi. stretch of I-5. Vehicles travel approximately 30,000 mi. per year.

The fleet is currently running three Ford E-150 vans, eight Ford E-250 vans, one Ford E-350 van, and two Chevrolet Express 3500 vans on propane autogas, which is supplied by Blue Star Gas. The vehicles transport clients to and from doctor appointments, to hospitals or rehabilitation facilities, and other appointments that help improve the quality of life for those who otherwise would be homebound. The vehicles are equipped to handle wheelchairs and stretchers as well as people with walkers. The company provides 24-hour emergency services as well.

McClain says he first explored compressed natural gas (CNG), but after meeting with Blue Star Gas, he was convinced propane autogas was the right choice.

“The cost of conversion, infrastructure, and return on investment are the first things potential clients notice when evaluating which alternative fuel to choose,” says Darren Engle, director of government relations for Blue Star Gas. “You can install 10 propane auto­gas fueling stations for what it costs to install one CNG station. That, coupled with the smaller size and lighter weight of the fuel tank, makes propane autogas the obvious choice for light- or medium-duty vehicles, such as WVT’s paratransit fleet.”

Blue Star Gas installed a 500-gal. propane autogas fueling station onsite for WVT, which also has access to a regional network of refueling stations.

“Installing onsite refueling was a big selling point,” says McClain. “Plus, the other fueling locations are great for a transport route and a team that travels all over the area. Right now, we use our onsite station, but we also use a Blue Star Gas station in McMinnville and the Prescott Chevron Station in Portland.”

According to Blue Star Gas, a fleet switching to propane autogas as opposed to natural gas can achieve a number of savings. The cost to convert two vehicles to run on propane autogas is equal to the cost of converting one vehicle to run on natural gas, the firm said. Also, a vehicle powered by propane autogas achieves 90% of the range of a gasoline equivalent while CNG-powered vehicles only have 50% of the range.

Finally, while both propane autogas and CNG vehicles reduce harmful emissions by more than 20% compared to gasoline vehicles, on a per-dollar basis, propane autogas offsets 1.5 times more, Blue Star Gas says. Autogas also costs, on average, $2.14 less per gallon than gasoline.

“Propane autogas is game-changing for us because it has saved us so much money,” sums up McClain. “It has just been a good decision for my business.”

About the Author

Brian Straight | Managing Editor

Brian joined Fleet Owner in May 2008 after spending nearly 14 years as sports editor and then managing editor of several daily newspapers.  He and his staff  won more than two dozen major writing and editing awards. Responsible for editing, editorial production functions and deadlines.

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