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CPBJ Blog Extras

Year of the 'blue' fleets

By - Last modified: March 5, 2013 at 9:19 AM

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Jim T. Ryan

Are you ready for “blue fleets”?

Years ago, I had someone tell me there were double-secret-probation plans to develop a natural-gas trucking corridor in Central Pennsylvania, and specifically through the truck- and warehouse-laden Cumberland County.

Turns out, all that came of that rumor were state incentives to switch to natural-gas vehicles. Or could more be coming down the pike?

The Flying J truck stop in Middlesex Township is scheduled to get a natural-gas pump this year.

Fleet Owner magazine started its own Facebook page for blue fleets.

I was aware that companies such as FedEx and UPS were using natural-gas trucks for delivery routes and regional hauls from Los Angeles to Las Vegas, but more companies are eyeing blue for their futures.

YRC Worldwide Inc. — a company with midstate ties — is starting a pilot in California where subsidiary YRC Freight will use four liquefied-natural-gas trucks to determine how well they work in its network, the company said Wednesday.

They got the trucks from partner Clean Energy Fuels Corp. That's right, the same company adding LNG fueling in Cumberland County.

Flying J is popping up in other natural gas venues as well. This story looks at the favorable experience Bison Transport, a Canada-based trucking firm, is having with its blue fleet.

So why haven't we seen this same enthusiasm in such a transportation-heavy part of the U.S.?

Some companies are concerned about the capabilities and costs of switching to blue trucks. Buying new trucks might not be what other companies are ready for, especially if they replaced older inefficient trucks with cleaner burning diesels before the recession and then removed unused trucks from service during it.

Now as things rebound, they're supposed to drop more coin on blue fleets? I have a feeling they'll ease into that million-dollar investment.

One thing to consider for the long haul: the viability of blue trucks depends on the relatively low and stable cost of natural gas next to diesel. How stable it is in the future is anyone's guess.

In this Fleet Owner story, RBC Capital Markets analysts basically said to expect natural gas prices to rise, especially as more of the stuff is exported to gas-hungry markets overseas. That could explain some of the production in the Marcellus Shale.

Hopefully, that doesn't give you the blues, but if you keep reading, there are upsides, like larger personal discretionary spending to bolster the consumer economy.

So maybe blue will put more green into economy?

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, transportation and workforce issues. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jimr@centralpennbusiness.com. You can also follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan

Jim T. Ryan covers Cumberland County, manufacturing, distribution, transportation and logistics. Have a tip or question for him? Email him at jimr@cpbj.com. Follow him on Twitter, @JimTRyanCPBJ.

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