WTA benefits from low fuel costs

Plunging fuel prices have amounted to a small windfall for Whatcom Transportation Authority. The transit agency will be below budget on fuel costs in 2014, despite an unplanned-for increase in bus service to the east county.

The price of diesel peaked Sept. 16, according to AAA Washington, one week before WTA added two weekday round trips to Route 72X to Kendall — a 33-mile trip one way. The additional service wasn’t planned when the 2014 budget was written in late 2013.

Since September, the price of diesel has dropped 16 percent at the pump. Diesel makes up roughly 70 percent of WTA’s fuel costs; while paratransit and van-pool vehicles run on gasoline. Gas prices have fallen even more sharply — 26 percent — since mid-September.

Even with the new 72X runs, WTA projects to come in under the $1,783,000 it budgeted this year for fuel. The agency had spent about $1.65 million on fuel this year as of Tuesday, Dec. 23, according to WTA Fleet and Finance Director Mike Bozzo.

WTA’s 2015 budget projects a 9 percent increase in fuel costs, to $1,936,500. The agency is accounting for the added 72X runs in that budget, along with some local east-county service expected to begin next year. Also, fuel costs were projected to be around this year’s peak, plus a 5 percent contingency to account for inflation or the unexpected.

“Right now it looks like I’m way over budget,” Bozzo said Tuesday, Dec. 23. “What is (the price) going to be next March? I don’t know.”

“All it takes is one of the refineries on the West Coast getting shut down, and the price of fuel skyrockets — or something happens in the Middle East,” he said.

As far as fuel prices have fallen this year, they have been known to rise just as quickly. After spending most of 2007 in the low-$3 range, the price of diesel broke records in 2008, reaching almost $5 a gallon.

“Previous years, they’ve had to go back to the board (of directors) to increase the budget because the price of fuel skyrocketed,” Bozzo said. “We don’t want to do that.”