Two Georgia school districts spoke with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution on their decisions to implement propane and gasoline into their school bus fleets and why they did so.
The Propane Education & Research Council shared that the search for cleaner fuels began about 20 years ago with a desire to reduce student exposure to exhaust from diesel buses. As the alt-fuel search continued, districts saw that propane was not only cleaner to burn, but easier to obtain, maintain and handle.
Fulton County Schools Transportation Director Sam Ham said he was impressed by the benefits of propane when he was introduced to it at a Council of the Great City Schools event that featured perspectives shared by student transporters from Texas, Colorado, Pennsylvania, Minnesota and other states.
“Once the sales pitch was over, I thought I’d hear the negatives—there were none,” Ham said.
Thanks to the support of his district superintendent and board of education, he procured 90 propane buses last year at $100,000 each. By the end of this year, about a quarter of his fleet, or 200 buses, will run on propane.
As a result of partnering with AmeriGas for fueling station construction, the structures did not cost the district anything.
Though its propane school buses run about $6,000-$8,000 more than diesel buses, school bus manufacturer Blue Bird said that districts can save on infrastructure costs by partnering with county government or propane distributors.
Additionally, propane costs up to 50 percent less than diesel fuel and about 30 percent less than gasoline. Rebates of 50 cents per gallon were offered by the Department of Energy through the end of 2017, but it is unknown at this time if those will be renewed.
Nonetheless, Ham added that having propane buses saves Fulton County Schools money on the expensive after-treatment and additional maintenance costs that are associated with diesel buses.
AJC reported that there are currently 378 propane buses in use across 15 Georgia districts. The state is also using a hefty portion of its share of the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Funds to replace diesel buses with alternatively fueled ones.
Elsewhere throughout the country, over 500 propane buses are in operation across just 10 states: Texas, California, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Illinois, New York, Minnesota, Florida and Ohio. Last year alone, the fuel was added to fleets in over 90 districts for the first time.
Gasoline was the fuel that caught the eye of student transporters at Cobb County Schools in 2014. At the recommendation of his Associate Transportation Director Mike Warner, Executive Director of Transportation Rick Grisham added 32 gasoline buses to his fleet of 1,151 in 2016.
“There wasn’t much of a learning curve,” Grisham said. “Everyone fell in love with them right away.”
The buses have been a hit. They start up quickly in cold weather and don’t require a lot of modification to meet EPA standards, which mechanics appreciate. They are quieter, cleaner and easier to handle than diesel, which pleases drivers. Plus, the school board likes the fact that costs will be recouped within six to seven years.
Grisham is looking to acquire propane buses next. He said he would like his fleet to be made up of one-third each gasoline, propane and diesel buses. This is largely because of fuel constraints and increased prices that resulted from Hurricane Irma last year. It’s good to have options, he said.
Both Ham and Grisham added that a bonus of using alternative fuels which reduce diesel-related costs, is that money saved can go back into the classroom.