Leon County Schools is entering phase three of its implementation of CNG after completing a new bus maintenance facility over the summer. More than a quarter of the fleet now operates on the alternative fuel.
Purchasing Director Manny Joanos said the district expects a 15-year life cycle, which will maintain a total fleet size of 225 school buses. The district currently operates 160 routes daily for 6,500 riders, or more than 19 percent of the total student enrollment. About 2,000 students currently ride on CNG buses.
"By 2019, we feel very sure that all daily routes will have a CNG bus," he told STN. "We anticipate for out of town field trips we may need to keep a few diesels."
Joanos added that Superintendent Jackie Pons wanted to ensure that other agencies, businesses and the general public could also take advantage of the district's two fast-fill CNG fueling stations. Slow fill, Joanos explained, would not be able to accommodate other users. The second fueling station opened last August. It operates under a private/public partnership with local CNG infrastructure developer Nopetro.
Nopetro said the fuel costs $1.50 per gallon and has produced 40 percent savings over traditional gasoline or diesel.
"We're saving around $6,500-$7,000 a bus on fuel," added Superintendent Pons. "It's cleaner for the environment, less particulate matter, and it's also an educational process for our students to understand the role that we all play in protecting our environment."
Worried about the effect on local air quality of operating more than 200 older-model, diesel-powered buses, Pons (left) tasked the transportation department in 2007 to come up with a plan to expand CNG, as the district already operated 14 of the alt-fuel buses. A year later, the school board won a $350,000 EPA grant funds with support from the Economic Development Council, Sustainable Tallahassee, the Leon County Commissiion and Leon County Sherfiff Larry Cambell.
Joanos said $320,000 of the grant purchased eight new Class D CNG buses with air condition, and the remaining $30,000 went toward employee training. The total cost of the eight buses was $1,229,200, which meant Leon County had to pay $909,200 out of pocket.
The City of Tallahassee supplies the the natural gas to the Nopetro fueling station as well as to school buildings for heating and to cafeterias for cooking food.
"Since the Nopetro opening, the city has purchased 12 yard trash trucks, Waste Pro is converting to CNG for all its garbage trucks and Florida State University has purchased several CNG cars," said Joanos.
He explained that Florida school districts can deploy CNG school buses through a Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) grant program
FDACS announced a new CNG School Bus Conversion Program earlier this year that is providing at least $1.2 million for bus purchases. The deadline to submit grant applications was July 1. The program supplies grants of $25,000 to $40,000 per vehicle to convert an existing bus to run on CNG or help cover the incremental cost of purchasing a new CNG bus versus a comparable diesel unit. Buses purchased or converted through the program must be in service for the 2013-2014 school year. A minimum 25-percent cost-share, to be spent concurrently with the grant funds, is also required. The funds are awarded on a cost reimbursement basis.
The grant program is also tracking the cost and petroleum savings for a year. The information will be made public as a resource for entities considering CNG conversions.