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New Laketran GM Hopes Electric Buses Can Charge Up Lake County Transit

Laketran General Manager Ben Capelle Stands Next to One of the Agency's Newest Busses
Laketran General Manager Ben Capelle

The Lake County transit agency’s new general manager starts next week. Laketran is looking ahead with hopes to modernize its fleet with electric buses while juggling funding challenges.

New General Manager Ben Capelle inherits an agency with a $15 million budget facing a funding shortfall of about $600,000. 

But Capelle said introducing propane powered buses last year and a recent grant application to fund a battery powered bus fleet could bring a trial program and additional savings.

"No one else in the state has busses of that type at this time," he said. "We’re very hopeful that FTA will give us grant money. If they do that they could be on the road as early as 2020 or 2021."

Capelle added that the electric buses can fully charge within five minutes.  Laketran applied for a $10 million grant with the Federal Transit Administration and expects a decision in September. 

The new buses would supplement the existing Laketran fleet.

Cost-savings with propane

The propane buses, Capelle said, were the result of a 2015 investigation into how to replace diesel engines in the buses. Capelle said the company looked at three different kinds of fuel: gasoline, compressed natural gas and propane.

The decision was made after seeing the technological changes that propane has gone through and the cost-saving it would provide.

“The propane buses are a big deal for us because they’re going to save us 35% on our fuel budget for Dial-a-Ride,” Capelle said.

Dial-a-Ride is a door-to-door transportation service provided by Laketran that will pick up users from their location and take them to any destination in Lake County.

Capelle put the importance of this 35% saving into perspective.

“It costs us $64 per day per Dial-a-Ride bus to fuel them,” Capelle said. “Propane will change that to about $40 a day. It is a significant saving for us over time, and we’re really hoping that can kind of help use weather the storms over the state funding issues.”

A closer look at funding

Part of the reason Laketran is researching these cost saving options goes back to the aforementioned $600,000 cut in budget.

“The reason we need to save money is because some of the challenges facing us are, the state cutting us with the MCO sales tax issues, and then additionally, we got cut by another program at (The Ohio Department of Transportation) ODOT for about $200,000,” Capelle said. “Between that and the MCO sales tax of about a $400,000 cut, we’re facing about a $600,000 cut in 2018, which with a $15 million budget is a pretty significant cut.”

The Medicaid Managed Care Organization (MCO) Sales Tax imposed taxes on certain health care items and services provided by Medicaid health providers, with part of the revenue going to transit authorities such as Laketran. The state has already elected to remove the tax, rather than taxing all health care providers, not just Medicaid.

Despite this cut, Capelle is confident in Laketran going forward.

“Laketran is in a good position,” Capelle said. “We have a good operation right now, so there’s not any major changes that need to happen right away. So as far as short-term, within the next six months, a lot of it is gonna be to keep the operation running as smoothly as we can.”