Mark Bumgarner and his employees were tentative when they first heard their work vans would run on propane fuel.

“When you think of propane you think of grills and stuff — so one of the questions we had was, ‘Oh my gosh, is this going to blow up?’” said Bumgarner, the executive director of Adult Life Programs of Hickory.

Once he learned the realities behind propane fuel for cars — it’s more environmentally friendly than traditional gasoline, costs less and it’s safe — he was all in.

Alliance AutoGas, an alternative fuel company based in Asheville, first approached Bumgarner about the change in early 2019. Now, four of Adult Life’s 15 vehicles are able to run on propane fuel and gas and more will be converted soon, Bumgarner said.

He sees the change as a way to save money and make a commitment to better the community. The fuel puts off less carbon dioxide and fewer greenhouse gasses, according to a release from Alliance AutoGas.

“One of the things we’re proud of is we don’t just take care of the people we serve, we take care of the community,” he said.

Adult Life Services provides services and day programs for hundreds of intellectually and developmentally disabled adults in the community. The group provides rides to and from its three facilities in the county, offers rides to appointments and pharmacies, and uses its vans to take participants around the county to volunteer and take part in activities. In 2018, the nonprofit had 20,600 transportation trips, according to its annual report.

With the nonprofit relying so heavily on cars and vans, Bumgarner knew the cost saving of about 30 percent per gallon would have an impact, no matter how small.

“We’re a nonprofit — sometimes we’re on a shoestring budget,” he said. “Every dollar saved is one that goes back into our services.”

Converting the vans involves adding a new fuel tank and fuel system that the van can switch to from gas. If the vehicles run out of propane, they can switch back to gas easily, Bumgarner said.

There is only one place in the county to fuel up on propane, so there is a chance of running out, Bumgarner said. The drivers make sure to use as little gas as they can, he said.

Bumgarner hopes the move sets an example for other organizations. “We also see ourselves as a leader in our community,” he said.

The organization’s conversions were paid for with a private grant found by Alliance AutoGas, Bumgarner said.

Bumgarner sees the need for transportation growing, he said. Using propane fuel will help lower that cost.

“We’re very grateful because transport is the biggest stumbling block,” he said. “Without it, we wouldn’t be able to get people here or out to the community.”

The nonprofit plans to convert its newer vehicles to propane, and as it gets new cars they will be outfitted with a propane system.

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