High gas prices have fleet managers in Steamboat Springs turning to hybrids and alternative fuels | SteamboatToday.com

High gas prices have fleet managers in Steamboat Springs turning to hybrids and alternative fuels

The city of Steamboat Springs is one of the transportation providers in Routt County that are participating in a yearlong program to look into the possibility of using more alternative fuels in their fleets. The city in recent years has grown its hybrid bus fleet and is realizing a significant fuel savings from the vehicles.

— With gas prices still sitting stubbornly near $4 per gallon, the managers of the biggest transportation fleets in Routt County are trying just about everything to get the most out of every gallon.

At Horizons Specialized Services, the latest tactic is a switch to synthetic motor oil.

It's too soon to tell whether the change will make a difference in the nonprofit's fleet of more than 20 cars, vans and trucks, but it’s worth a shot, Executive Director Susan Mizen said Tuesday after she closed a drawer in the Horizons downtown office that contained a few red bottles of the oil.

Horizons has budgeted to spend $56,000 this year on the operation and maintenance of its fleet of vehicles that constantly traverses five counties for house calls.

About $37,000 of that sum will be spent on fuel.

Another $24,000 has been budgeted to reimburse employees who drive their own vehicles to appointments, Mizen said.

Mizen said that when Northern Colorado Clean Cities came to Steamboat earlier this month to talk about energy coaching, Horizons was curious and eagerly jumped on the opportunity to learn more about alternative fuels and vehicles.

"We've been making an effort over the last three years to be more efficient by being green,” Mizen said. "We generally purchase our vehicles, so we might in the future look into purchasing a hybrid or electric vehicle for local travel. That seems like an option for us. We just have to work out the logistics."

Horizons is among a small group of transportation providers in Steamboat that have signed up for the free energy coaching that is made possible by a $225,000 grant from the Colorado Energy Office.

The goal is to find ways to save on fuel while also reducing the environmental impact of a fleet.

Other large organizations in the yearlong pilot program dubbed Refuel Colorado Fleets include the city of Steamboat Springs, Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp. and Go Alpine.

"The fuels that really rose to the top (after the kickoff meeting) and what we'll really be looking at for Steamboat are compressed natural gas, propane and I heard some interest in hybrids," said Maria Eismann, coordinator of Northern Colorado Clean Cities.

"The only problem with (compressed natural gas) in Steamboat is there is no infrastructure there for it now.”

She said the infrastructure for propane is easier to establish, but with compressed natural gas infrastructure going up in some cities on the Interstate 70 corridor, it might not be too far-fetched to see it in Steamboat in the future.

After sustaining years of high gas prices, fleet managers in Steamboat already have embraced alternative fuels and vehicles.

The Steamboat Springs School District has embraced propane as a fuel for its buses, and the city has plans to expand its fleet of hybrid buses to six.

Now that Eismann and Colorado Clean Cities have a working group of major transportation providers here, the energy coaching will commence.

"We'll be working to see if any of these fuels make sense, talking to fuel providers and talking to dealerships to see if we can make some progress," she said.

Back at Horizons, Mizen acknowledged she's not expecting to drastically alter the makeup of the organization's diverse fleet of vehicles anytime soon.

In the near future, employees will be logging hundreds of miles in the fleet that includes an older Chevrolet Trailblazer, trucks and some newer Subarus.

In the meantime, a note is tacked up above the vehicle sign-out sheet encouraging employees to carpool when they can.

When they go to Craig, they’re advised to try to grab the most fuel-efficient vehicle they can.

To reach Scott Franz, call 970-871-4210, email scottfranz@SteamboatToday.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottFranz10.