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Government will try to lead the way to cleaner air by switching public vehicles from gasoline to natural gas - and hope that private industry will do the same.

That was the message from Salt Lake Mayor Deedee Corradini and Airport Authority Director Louis Miller Wednesday as they unveiled plans to convert nine airport shuttle buses and 57 other airport vehicles from gas to natural gas this year.The idea is to save the environment as well as money.

It will cost $117,600 to phase in the changes, but officials project the program will save $352 per truck yearly as well as about $14,000 in fuel costs for shuttle buses and approximately $60,000 in maintenance costs for buses.

The airport expects to save a total of $93,000, including the new fuel and maintenance savings, by managing the shuttle bus operation itself. Currently, that is handled by a private contractor.

As for the environment, a study by Mountain Fuel has indicated that natural gas reduces carbon monoxide emissions from vehicles by 94 percent.

"We think that with this type of program, the city will set the example, and we hope other governments will follow and that private fleets will follow," Corradini said.

There are 1,600 private transportation firms in the area with 20,000 vehicles, she said.

Besides being troublesome for Utahns, smog is bad for economic development, Corradini said.

"There's nothing more embarrassing than having people from other states fly in here and see this dirty air," she said.

Miller said the new program offers financial incentives to taxi, limousine and other vehicle companies that do business at the airport. If they switch to natural gas, they can receive credits that will reduce the fees they pay to operate at the airport.

For example, a taxi company could get a $2,300 credit for each cab converted to natural gas, a $1,000 credit to use on subsequently purchased vehicles that are converted by using natural gas equipment from former vehicles, and a $1,500 credit for new vehicles purchased from the factory ready to use natural gas.

The Salt Lake Airport Authority Board at its Wednesday meeting approved the fuel change and authorized the airport to run the shuttle bus system starting in September. It entered into a mutually beneficial five-year contract with Mountain Fuel to provide natural gas.

The city is conducting other experiments with natural gas-fueled vehicles: one operated by Corradini, one in the animal control department, one in the fire department, and two in the trans-por-ta-tion and engineering departments.