By Jon Delano

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Republican County Executive Candidate D. Raja says it’s time to convert the county’s bus system to natural gas.

“Natural gas costs may be less than half of what diesel or the other regular gas costs,” says Raja. “What I would like to see happen is to convert all the buses the Port Authority does — when you purchase new purchases — converting all buses to natural gas.”

Using EQT’s natural gas service station as a backdrop, the Republican said natural gas would save money, especially since the county sits on natural gas deposits.

“The county owns a lot of land, particularly at the airport — 9,000 acres we own – 2,000 of that is developable. Why not use the natural gas there to help us out here?” adds Raja.

“I appreciate him using one of my ideas that I’ve had for two years as one of his innovative ideas,” laughs Rich Fitzgerald, the Democratic candidate for county executive.

Fitzgerald says he has no problem with switching buses to natural gas — he’s been pushing it for years — the issue, he says, is getting the feds to pay the higher purchase price.

“Eighty percent of the money comes from the federal government,” notes Fitzgerald, the former county council president.

“A natural gas bus costs about $50,000 more than a conventional diesel fuel bus. So we’ve got to get permission from Washington to do so.”

Fitzgerald says if the feds don’t agree, “Then Raja is proposing increasing taxes on the local taxpayers and that’s not what I’m prepared to do.”

Not so, says Raja, who would allow energy companies to purchase the buses for the Port Authority.

“One of the options that they’ve talked about is funding the upfront conversion, knowing that we’ll be using their gas locally,” says Raja.

“That could be a win-win because we’re not paying for it up-front, and they get the win because our buses are fueling at their natural gas stations.”

The election is on November 8th.

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