Madison Taxi Operator Is a Three-Decade Autogas Veteran,
PERC Shows How Rising Gasoline Prices Spurred Fuel Switch
Special to F&F from the Propane Education & Research Council
Madison, Wis.-based Badger Cab Company was founded in 1946 by six World War II veterans who wanted to establish an economical means of transportation for working people in the city. The company has since grown to a 45-vehicle fleet with 150 cab drivers servicing about one million passengers each year. The company operates year-round, 24 hours a day, seven days a week with a mission of providing the lowest priced taxi service in the area.
When the U.S. oil embargo almost tripled the price of gasoline in 1978, Badger Cab Company needed to make up for the unanticipated increase in gasoline prices without raising rates on its customers. According to Bob Frick, sales and marketing manager for Badger Cab Company, economic necessity drove the company to start looking at alternative fuels.
“It was a real challenge to figure out how to keep prices low in the face of tripling fuel costs,” Frick said. “We couldn’t change the cost of our rides and something had to give. We heard of a nearby company using propane in their truck fleet, and went to them to see what we could learn about the process.”
In addition to exploring propane autogas, the company briefly considered compressed natural gas. However, installation costs for CNG infrastructure and increased fueling time proved unworkable for the company’s business model.
“Our research showed that CNG infrastructure was significantly more expensive and took much too long to fuel the vehicles,” said Frick. “Being an industry where our vehicles are constantly running, CNG wasn’t a practical option. The propane autogas fueling process, on the other hand, was quite simple and fast and comparable to gasoline.”
The company’s fleet was fully converted to bi-fuel by 1981, allowing their sedans to operate on gasoline or propane autogas. Badger Cab Company later updated its fleet to 45 bi-fuel retired law enforcement Crown Victoria sedans in the early 1990s.
On-Site Refueling Delivers Cost Savings
Badger Cab Company quickly realized cost savings from installing a 30,000-gallon propane tank and on-site refueling infrastructure. Frick estimates the company saves 50% to 75% on fuel compared to gasoline by purchasing propane in bulk through a contract with its local propane retailer.
“We contract for 300,000 gallons of fuel and are able to get a good price,” Frick said. “The propane we buy is as low as a third to as high of a half of a price of gasoline. Running our vehicles three million miles per year has resulted in significant cost savings.”
The cab company operates mostly as a centrally fueled fleet, with drivers returning vehicles at the end of a shift to refuel before going back out. Though the fleet has bi-fuel capabilities, Frick said the vehicles run almost entirely on propane autogas.
“It’s very seldom that the guys would put gasoline in the cars,” Frick said. “Even if they go out of town, we have lists in our cabs of where they can get propane on the road. We prefer they use propane autogas and they’re very comfortable with it.”
Superior Performance Drives Down Operating Costs
In nearly 30 years of operating on propane autogas, Badger Cab Company has had zero performance issues. In fact, Frick believes many of Badger Cab Company’s drivers wouldn’t know the cabs run on propane autogas if they weren’t told.
“Some of the drivers come in and they’re mystified that we run on propane,” Frick said. “We train all the drivers on refueling and once they do it a couple of times and drive the vehicles, they’re very happy.”
Frick says clean-burning propane has reduced maintenance costs, creating additional cost savings for the company. The cab fleet operates at maximum performance on fewer oil changes and with extended service intervals.
“The maintenance schedule enables us to run oil changes longer,” Frick said. “We also have much less wear and tear on the engines and a longer engine life. The savings are significant.”
Despite the daily wear and tear on vehicles from heavy city driving and quick starts and stops, Badger Cab Company is also keeping its vehicles longer, reducing its total cost of ownership.
“The very visible cost saving is in the fuel cost but we’re also not having to get rid of vehicles because the engines aren’t wearing out,” Frick said. “We get some vehicles with well over 300,000 miles on them.”
Conserving Economic and Environmental Resources
Investing in quality equipment and maintaining optimum vehicle performance is a big point of differentiation for Badger Cab Company. Frick sees the company’s commitment to “getting the most” out of each vehicle as a way of keeping the business profitable while reducing environmental impact.
“The green movement goes hand and glove with running a good, efficient, and responsible business,” Frick said. “Our philosophy is we take very good care of our vehicles and there’s a residual bonus in that — overall our fleet costs less and we are contributing far less hydrocarbon emissions to our local environment.”
According to Frick, propane autogas has been integral to the company’s mission of providing customers the lowest priced fare in the area. The ease, convenience, and affordability of a propane-fueled-fleet has allowed Badger Cab Company to remain successful for the last 30 years, and is an investment it will continue to make in the future.
“We’ve been successful by conserving what we have available and making the best of everything,” said Frick. “Propane autogas remains the best fuel alternative for us now, and into the future.”
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Source: Propane Education & Research Council