Business grows with biodiesel shuttles
June 18, 2008
By Ryan Piersol
Snoqualmie Valley Transportation wants to help you get around town.
And they want to do it with vegetable oil.The shuttle business in North Bend, which started three years ago with just a pair of buses, is keeping up with growth by getting hi-tech. This month, it expects to have in operation a second shuttle that runs entirely off biodiesel, a non-petroleum-based fuel made from vegetable oil.
The project is the result of Snoqualmie Valley Transportation teaming up with the Snoqualmie Tribe, who donated the biodiesel-running shuttles and had them outfitted for the change.
“We needed to get people around this valley better, because Metro just wasn’t doing the job. Then, we started thinking about things we wanted to do to make things run better,” said Fuzzy Fletcher, with the Snoqualmie Tribe. “The shuttles can drive up and pump the veggie-oil into their shuttle, and off they go. The idea is to take waste oil from the Valley and put it into shuttles to get people around the Valley.”
Snoqualmie Valley Transportation, which is housed at the Mount Si Senior Center and serves the entire Valley, currently has seven shuttles running. The hope is that, as shuttles break down, they will be replaced with ones that run on biodiesel.
The alternative fuel is produced by a company in Renton. Snoqualmie Valley Transportation is currently paying about $5.60 a gallon for the fuel, but hopes to reach a deal soon with the Snoqualmie Tribe that will turn cooking oil disposed by Snoqualmie Casino into fuel, drastically cutting costs.
“It’s been excellent,” said Paula Edwards, with Snoqualmie Valley Transportation. “(Our driver) said there hasn’t been any difference in the performance. It’s been expensive, but we should see a difference in that soon.”
Fletcher, who was mayor of Snoqualmie until December of 2005, said Snoqualmie Tribe Director of Transportation Kanim Ventura worked hard to get grants from the Federal Transit Authority to help pay for outfitting the shuttles.
Snoqualmie Valley Transportation also receives help from the Washington State Department of Transportation and King County Metro Transit Authority. The shuttle business will pick people up at their door and take them where they want to go for just 50 cents per person. They run shuttles from 6 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, and can carry up to 14 people at a time.
They have, of course, seen a recent hike in ridership with the increase of gasoline costs.
“We’ve seen a tremendous hike in riders,” Edwards said. “We’re growing in numbers and it seems like we need more shuttles monthly.”
Biodiesel first became a source of fuel more than 150 years ago, but has only recently become a popular option. In 2005, Minnesota became the first state in country to mandate that all retail diesel fuel contain at least part biodiesel.
Snoqualmie Valley Transportation, though, wants it to be all alternative fuel.
“We’re paying 10 percent more (than gasoline) right now, but we’re not putting pollutants out into the environment and we’re burning something that was wasted already,” Fletcher said. “And, in time, we believe the cost will come down.”