Vehicles for change: Replacing petrol with compressed natural gas


Following five years of planning and investment, 2016 saw significant progress towards the government’s goal of having 17,500 vehicles fuelled by compressed natural gas (CNG) on the roads by the end of 2018. Motors running on CNG are cheaper to run, produce less harmful emissions, and free up more of Trinidad and Tobago’s diesel and gasoline production for export. Public transportation and state-owned vehicles play a major role in driving demand for alternative fuel, with the government aiming to convert over 1000 public sector motors by December 2018. With an extensive network of CNG refuelling stations installed across Trinidad and generous incentive schemes for conversion, the groundwork is in place to expand uptake of CNG.

The Push 

The switch to CNG as a vehicular fuel was first proposed at the budget speech in 2011 and gathered pace when a National Gas Company of T&T (NGCTT) subsidiary – the NGC CNG Company – began constructing refuelling stations, enabling vehicle conversion and promoting the use of CNG. The retail price of TT$1 ($0.15) per litre was set for CNG, providing substantial savings when compared to premium gasoline at TT$5.75 ($0.86), super gasoline at TT$3.58 ($0.53) and diesel at TT$2 ($0.30). With existing subsidies for all other vehicular fuels set to be removed over the course of 2017-18, the price differential is set to increase. Other incentive schemes include the removal of the motor vehicle tax and the value-added tax on all imported, original equipment manufacturer CNG vehicles and a 25% tax credit for conversion costs up to TT$2500 ($374) per vehicle. In FY 2017/18, seven new public CNG stations will be added to the 10 already in existence, and five mobile refuelling units purchased by the NGC CNG Company in 2016 will provide additional capacity.

Accelerating Uptake 

In 2016 the sale of CNG vehicles had exceeded expectations. In the first eight months of the year, 346 units had been sold exceeding the originally forecast 265, according to Curtis Mohammed, president of NGC CNG Company. The first public sector vehicles to make the switch were intercity buses run by the Public Transport Service Corporation (PTSC). In December 2014 some 35 CNG-fuelled buses purchased from the Chinese firm Sunlong Bus for TT$38m ($5.7m) took to the streets with more set to follow. “For FY 2016/17 we had a budget for 35 new CNG buses,” Jacklyn Evans-Lesse, the former senior deputy general manager of corporate services and administration at the PTSC, told OBG. “We consider that to be seed money to be put towards the possible purchase of 100 CNG vehicles as we replenish our fleet,” she added. However, CNG buses are not without limitations. They take longer to refuel, and they may be underpowered for Tobago’s hillier terrain, meaning diesel buses will still be required on the smaller island. Nevertheless, the fuel savings are significant. The new buses cost TT$100 ($14.90) to fill, compared with TT$400 ($59.80) for diesel buses, Carl Ramdeo, deputy general manager of marketing and communications at the PTSC, told local media.

Maxi Taxis 

The country’s maxi taxis, which provide minibus transport along city routes, have also followed suit. In 2015 the T&T Unified Maxi Taxi Association signed an agreement with NGCTT to provide grants of between TT$45,000 ($6720) and TT$75,000 ($11,200) for owners who turn in their maxi taxis to be replaced with a CNG vehicles. There are 1200 such grants available until May 2018, and in September 2016 the first two diesel maxi taxis were replaced with CNG units built by the Chinese firm Jiangsu Joylong Automobile.

In addition, the Vehicle Management Corporation of T&T (VMCOTT), which maintains the vehicles used by the police, plans to install a CNG outfitting facility at its Port of Spain base in 2017. “For TT$150,000 ($22,400) we can set up the conversion facility. We estimate that the TT$12,000 ($1790) cost of converting a vehicle will be paid back over two years with normal usage,” Ramesh Lackhan, CEO of VMCOTT, told OBG. “We have trained four technicians to undertake conversions and a further eight are set to be trained in 2017-18.”