Lower gasoline prices helping Delaware vehicle/equipment budgets stretch

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A state of Delaware paratransit bus is pictured in 2015, along with the rider and driver. (Submitted photo/DART)

DOVER — With gasoline prices now under $2 a gallon by a dime or more, transportation costs have dropped significantly.

That’s great news for the private and public sectors when putting nozzle into the tank and squeezing until it clicks off.

This week, Delaware Transit Corp. reported that more than $1.1 million fuel cost savings were accumulated in the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2016.

Money not spent on the tank allowed DART to speed plans for service expansion routes for employees, including a Wilmington to Middletown trip for Amazon personnel, and a Rehoboth-Millsboro path to Mountaire Farms and its chicken business, officials said.

The Delaware Department of Transportation is experiencing benefits from less expensive fuel as well.

Each fiscal year, DelDOT allocates $2.4 million for operational fuel expenses, covering all needs from grass trimmers to pickup trucks to excavators, said Maintenance & Operations Chief Administratior Anne Brown.

Fuel expenses were more than $1.8 million in Fiscal Year 2015, and savings were transferred to pay for delayed maintenance-related projects, Ms. Brown said, including piloting LED roadway lighting in an attempt to save additional energy dollars.

As DelDOT prepares for mid-year budget meetings, Ms. Brown said fuel expenditures are now at 30 percent of the budget.

“We may begin to look at how to reallocate the fuel savings now that the outlook shows reduced fuel prices for an extended period,” she said.

With an extended time for construction due to good weather, Ms. Brown said fuel consumption has increased. Also, she said, fuel used during storm events comes from the storm budget.

“Funds not spent from the storm budget will carry from year to year,” she said.

With a revenue fleet of 244 fixed route and 290 paratransit buses rolling through the state daily, the benefits of a smaller fuel tab continue to grow for now.

DART vehicles include MCI over the road coaches, Gillig transit buses for fixed route service and Ford E-450 cutaway buses for paratransit service, spokeswoman Julie Theyerl said.

Miles per gallon

The state of Delaware purchases gasoline through a contract, diesel from PAPCO Inc. and propane via Sharp Energy. Recently, a gasoline contract expired, Ms. Theyerl said, and market prices are now being paid.

A typical month of travel includes the following mileage and fuel consumption, according to the DTC:

• Buses on fixed routes travel an average of 2,975 miles monthly, using 750 gallons of diesel fuel, officials said.

• Paratransit buses average 3,500 miles per month, fueled by roughly 500 gallons of gasoline.

• Propane paratransit buses average 2,850 miles per month and use approximately 450 gallons of HD-5 propane.

Fixed route buses are powered by ultra-low sulfur diesel, while paratransit buses run on E85 gasoline or HD-5 propane, officials said.

According to the Delaware Transit, fixed route buses average 3.95 miles per gallon, paratransit buses average 6.75 miles per gallon on gasoline and 6 miles on HD-5 propane.

There are 260 full-time and 10 part-time fixed route drivers in the state, with 299 full-time and 20-part-time paratransit operators, officials said. In the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2016, they ferried 2,388,000 fixed route and 246,000 paratransit riders.

According to Ms. Theyerl, lower gas prices bring a drop in bus ridership.

There’s an uncertainty in fuel prices that have “fluctuated widely” in recent years and makes planning for them a challenge, Ms. Theyerl said.

“Yes, it is more difficult,” she said. “In the past, we have locked into fuel prices to take the risk out of higher prices. Fortunately, our contract has expired and we are now paying market value.”

Regarding other Delaware Transit market costs for operations this year, Ms. Theyerl said medical expenses increased 22 percent.

Reach staff writer Craig Anderson at canderson@newszap.com

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