A recent case study by ROUSH Clean Tech and Blue Bird showed the Bend-La Pine Schools district in Oregon not only saved money by switching to propane-powered school buses, but also found that these performed well in extreme temperatures. Bus drivers and technicians soon discovered the cold weather of the Pacific Northwest was not an obstacle for operating the propane vehicles.
“We have had challenges with diesel fuel due to gelling issues,” said David Voiles, the school district’s service manager. "With overnight sub-zero temperatures, we couldn’t keep diesel buses running because of the ever-changing quality of the fuel. This hasn’t been an issue with our propane autogas buses."
The district initially ordered 21 of these buses a few years ago, as well as four more a year later. It added 32 at the beginning of this school year. The idea to transition to propane came five years ago, when Denice Blake, director of transportation for the district, realized there was a need to replace some diesel buses in the fleet that were more than 30 years old.
She said she had the chance to test-drive a Blue Bird Propane Vision bus at a local conference, and was impressed with its power as well as the fact that it runs on an alternative fuel.
The Bend-La Pine district found propane to be more cost-effective than diesel fuel. Diesel fuel currently costs the district $3.11 per gallon, while propane costs $1.31 per gallon. For the first three years, the district received a federal tax credit of 50 cents per gallon, which has since expired.
Additionally, Bend-La Pine Schools also saved money on adding the initial infrastructure and bus purchase through the Business Energy Tax Credit from the State of Oregon. The district also received funding for infrastructure from the Oregon Department of Education, which reimburses all school districts’ transportation expenses by 70 percent.
According to the district, the members of the surrounding community are responding positively to the propane buses, saying that they like the “lack of a dust cloud.”
Blake added that the environmental benefits played a role in choosing alternative fuel buses.
“The Pacific Northwest is an inherently environmentally conscious area,” she said. “With everything we do, we consider how to lessen our impact on the environment and reduce our carbon footprint.”