Alternative fuels and technology auto expo in Steamboat attracts everything from buses to bikes

Tom Ross

— The parking lot of Eleanor Bliss Center for the Arts at the Depot was filled Tuesday afternoon with green cars of every color.

The Alternative Fuels and Gas Saving Technology Expo attracted a propane powered school bus, a vintage hybrid diesel/recycled-cooking-oil vintage Mercedes, a hulking hydrogen fuel Hummer, a sporty Chevy Volt and a delicate little open-sided GEM electric car made by Polaris. And if you like your hybrids Euro style, there was even a sleek looking Porsche.

The event was co-hosted by the Yampa Valley Sustainability Council and the Bud Werner Memorial Library.

Among all of those alternative four-wheelers, there were a couple of two-wheelers to admire as well. Gina Wither and Emily Colin, both teachers at Steamboat Mountain School in Strawberry Park, pedaled into the parking lot to show off their Boda Boda by Yuba electric bicycles. They cost $2,800 new.

“I think everyone in town needs one of these,” Wither said. “I can carry my guitar and my kid on it at the same time.”

Colin said the commute along the full length of of Strawberry Park and into downtown Steamboat takes her 15 minutes in her car and 16 minutes on her LED battery powered bike. And don’t dare tell Colin she should get an old-fashioned bike because exercise is good for all of us.

“I can work hard on this bike if I want to, and I get there in half the time,” she said. “It lets you do whatever you use your car for.”

Mary Walker and her 2005 Toyota Highlander hybrid recently celebrated an important milestone. Walker, said her primary motivation for purchasing the car for her daily commute from North Routt into Steamboat was to “do the right thing and support a new technology.”

But it’s always nice to reach the point of seeing a return on one’s investment.

“Six months ago I paid off the difference between the cost of the hybrid and (a traditional gas engine),” Walker said.

She said she saves about a tank of gas per month, or $500 per year, in gasoline bills, getting 40 miles per gallon on her commute. But what she really loves is winning the game of driving conservatively, pulsing her engine, coasting and moderating her acceleration to maximize her gas mileage driving across Steamboat. And she can’t figure out why drivers of traditional gasoline-dependent cars don’t play along with her.

“It’s a game to get as may miles per gallon as I possibly can,” Walker said. “I love it when my little gauge tells me I’m getting 60 miles per gallon.”

Michael Van Vliet, of Storm Mountain Express, was at the expo displaying a brand new full-sized 15-passenger Ford Transit van, one of just 1,000 in the United States, that gets 19 miles to the gallon on the highway between Steamboat and the airport, much better than the older E350 and E450 vans. That performance is thanks to a twin-turbo, V-6 EcoBoost engine.

Pascal Ginesta brought one of the biggest vehicles to appear at the expo, but miles per gallon weren’t at the top of his mind.

Ginesta, director of maintenance, operations and transportation for the Steamboat Springs School District, was showing off a Bluebird school bus with all the latest security cameras. And this bird of happiness burns propane not diesel. It’s one of three in the school district fleet, with another one on order.

The propane-powered bus burns cleaner than the diesel burning engines in the rest of the fleet. But because the school district and the city of Steamboat Springs go in together on a large tank of diesel at a great price, fuel cost for the older buses isn’t that much more expensive than the propane. But the latter has other advantages.

“It’s quieter, and it has a lot more sustained power on grades,” Ginesta said. The vehicle boasts a V-10 engine that you might find in a heavy duty pickup versus the diesel powered-school buses that are powered by an engine more akin to the power plant in an over-the-road semi tractor.

And the cost of an oil change is about a third of what is spent on a diesel engine oil change.

To reach Tom Ross, call 970-871-4205, email or follow him on Twitter @ThomasSRoss1

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