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Propane-powered taxis take to Baltimore streets

Baltimore’s first taxi cabs fueled with propane — estimated to save local cabbies $3 million a year in fuel costs — hit the streets Friday.

Veolia Transportation unveiled new propane-fueled taxicabs Friday at headquarters on Huntington Avenue in Remington. Each of 50 new Ford Crown Victoria sedans will have a 24-gallon propane autogas tank in the trunk.

Funded in part through a $300 million federal stimulus grant awarded to the national Clean Cities Program, Veolia Transportation is outfitting a fleet of 50 new Ford Crown Victoria sedans with 24-gallon propane autogas tanks in the trunks.

“This is something that is very practical,” said Mark Joseph, CEO of Veolia. “Propane autogas is the most widely used alternative fuel in the world. With the price of propane autogas averaging $1 per gallon less than gasoline, vehicle conversions and fueling infrastructure are particularly cost-effective for fleets such as ours at Veolia.”

The propane autogas is made from propane drilled in the U.S., said Stuart Weidie, president of Alliance AutoGas, a supplier of the new fuel.

Joseph, U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot, state Sen. Catherine Pugh, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and City Councilwoman Rochelle “Rikki” Spector cut a bright red ribbon Friday afternoon to mark the occasion. The event, in Remington at Veolia’s headquarters on Huntington Avenue, marked the launch of the first of such vehicles in the state.

Cardin called the use of the U.S.-harvested propane a boost to national security because it helps to wean the country off petroleum imports.

“It’s big news,” he said.

Veolia, an international company that earned $1 billion last year, transports 5 million local riders annually in a fleet of 700 vehicles.

The federal stimulus grant will fund total conversion of 8,000 vehicles in the U.S. to propane autogas.

Private contributions will add $600 million to the effort, said Mark Smith, vehicle technologies deployment manager with the U.S. Department of Energy, who attended the Remington event.

A total of 35 propane refueling stations are being built throughout much of the U.S., he said. The Veolia program is being completed under the Southeast Propane Autogas Development Program, a public-private partnership.

“We think it will reduce the need for up to 4 million gallons of gas annually,” Smith said.

At Veolia, the Yellow and Checker taxicabs that will carry the propane tanks will allow drivers, who lease the vehicles and pay for their own fuel, to save up to $1.60 per gallon over gasoline costs, said Mike Barrett, maintenance director at the company.

“Cab drivers are independent drivers, so for them, this is a great savings,” Barrett said.

The company is outfitting the 50 new cabs with large white propane tanks in each trunk over the next 90 days, Barrett said. The tanks are vented to the outside as a safety measure.

Companywide, Veolia is converting 300 of its taxis nationally from gasoline to propane autogas, Joseph said.

Veolia’s total local investment in the conversion is $6 million, Barrett said.