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Jax Daily Record Tuesday, Jul. 18, 200612:00 PM EST

JTA suffering shock at the pump, too

by: Max Marbut Associate Editor

by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

The price of crude oil is now more than $70 a barrel, bringing with it prices at the pump near the $3 per gallon range. If you have a long commute every day and a less-than-economical ride, you know that filling up the tank can add up to $100 a week or more. That’s a lot of dead dinosaurs.

Think you have it bad? Try filling up the Jacksonville Transportation Authority’s fleet of buses every day.

According to Tom Jury, president of Jacksonville Transit Management and the director of operations for city buses, the Skyway and the JTA Connexion, it takes 125 gallons of diesel fuel to fill the tank on a bus. There are 145 buses running 43 routes at an average 3.8 miles per gallon. The calculator says JTA goes through 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel on a typical weekday.

Jury said the JTA’s purchasing department shops diesel prices constantly and keeps a 300,000-gallon storage tank topped off at the lowest price available.

With diesel prices at more than $2.80 a gallon, he said the JTA is looking at reviving an idea that was tried back in the the mid-1990s – mixing $1.60 a gallon soy-based biodiesel with petroleum-based fuel and using it in the buses.

“We put two buses on a mixture of 20 percent biodiesel for six months and had good results,” said Jury. “The buses were cleaner and didn’t smoke as much (as with pure diesel) and there was no preparation or modification needed to the engines and no reduction in performance. Just put it in the tank and run it.”

Jury also said that using a biodiesel mixture doesn’t void engine warranties or cause any additional maintenance requirements. The soy-based fuel also runs cleaner with less exhaust emissions and it could save the JTA quite a bit of money. Jury estimated that using a mixture of 80 percent diesel and 20 percent biodiesel could save the JTA $500,000 the first year. Using a mixture of half biodiesel and half petroleum-based fuel could save as much as $1.3 million a year.

“It might even improve our miles per gallon. It would be wonderful to save some money and improve the environment at the same time. We’re hot on it,” he said.

The JTA is determining how much biodiesel is currently available and how to get it into the storage tank. He said that when the test was done in the ‘90s, they just added it to the storage tank. However, recent research indicates it’s better to mix the two fuels before storage. Jury also said that one of the problems experienced with biodiesel mixtures in northern climates — it become thicker and even gels when cold — won’t be a factor in Florida.

Barring unforeseen circumstances, Jury said, the JTA hopes to have all the research complete and order the first shipment of biodiesel within 30 days.

Jury also pointed out that in addition to saving money and reducing the consumption of foreign oil, there would be another advantage to using a biodiesel mixture in the JTA’s fleet. “The exhaust smoke smells like French fries.”

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