|School Districts Lining Up to Reduce Bus Idling, Save Fuel|
|Written by Stephane Babcock|
|Wednesday, 20 July 2011 11:36|
Idle hands are the devil’s tools, so they say. But what is an idling school bus? For many districts it equals wasted fuel and poor air quality for those in the direct vicinity of the vehicles. But, for many districts, finding the funds to control emissions and clean the air is about as easy as turning water into wine.
Three winters ago, the crew at Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev., awoke to an extremely cold morning. At about 15 below zero, the wintery weather was wreaking havoc on about 80 of the transportation department’s fleet of 275 school buses. The issue involved the high pressure injector systems, which were causing the oil to stay cold, keeping the engines from starting.
“We just had a heck of a time getting the fleet going that day,” said Fleet Operations Manager Todd Duncan. “So we had about 80 buses that just would not cooperate, and it took a few hours and batteries and heaters and all kinds of stuff.”
And so began the search to not only avoid this type of issue from occuring again but to also keep from idling the buses to an operating temperature every morning. First the transportation department tried plug-in block heaters that they combined with large diesel generators powered by lots of extension cords. But this became a safety hazard.
“So it was presented to me by the gentleman from the [Nevada Division of Environmental Protection] in January that he had some funding available,” said Duncan, explaining that the funding would be used to purchase school bus heaters for each of the buses, without any cost to the district.
The install was slated to begin this summer with 40 to 50 buses completed each month. The bulk of the fleet will be completed before wintertime, with the rest scheduled to be finished by next July.
Paul Baczewski, Webasto’s national account manager, worked with Duncan before the grant from the Nevada DEP ever came into the picture. After running a pilot on the company’s school bus heaters about a year and a half ago, the district realized the savings more than outweighed the costs.
“I tell customers that if they are successful in cutting down one hour of idle per day per bus, in a 25 bus fleet they can save over 1,300 gallons of fuel over a 90-day period,” said Baczewski. “So that’s a short-term payback, and that’s strictly in fuel savings.”
The EPA offers an online fuel savings calculator that shows fleet operators how much money can be saved by implementing idling programs. For example, a fleet of 30 school buses that are idled no more than 10 minutes a day can save 450 gallons a year. This equates to $1,800 a year saved on fuel, at a cost of $4 per gallon. Idling a fleet of 100 buses for only 5 minutes a day can increase the savings to 750 gallons and $3,000 a year.
Although fuel savings is number one on many districts’ wish lists when looking into this type of technology, there are other added benefits, including a greater longevity for maintenance parts such as starters, alternators and batteries. Since the vehicle is being put under less stress or wear and tear on the starter and other engine components, which goes along with trying to start a cold engine, districts will benefit from less frequently replacing certain parts.
“Idling engines for a prolonged period for heat and defrost is hard on the engine and quickly degrades the oil, causing the need for more frequent oil changes and engine maintenance,” commented Paula Bishop, manager of transportation and environmental affairs for Espar. “This increases the district’s transportation cost beyond the cost of the fuel alone.”
But with fuel costs on a constant roller coaster, districts are more interested in the fuel savings aspects because there are tangible direct dollar values tied to them, a benefit that operators can put right back into budgets, according to Baczewski.
“Not to say that they’re not interested in listening to the emissions standpoint, but reducing emissions has no financial benefit back to the school district,” explained Baczewski.
The reduction in emissions is a definite added bonus, especially when it comes to grant funding, as most school bus grants are tied to reducing emissions and a district’s carbon footprint.
“It’s all about getting cleaner diesel vehicles on the road,” said Washoe’s Duncan. “And the Nevada DEP has been very supportive.”
But engine heaters are not the only way to keep the buses from “over-idling.” Espar’s Bishop suggested designating a warm waiting area inside a school building to prevent the need for drivers to idle the bus to stay warm, especially if the driver needs to wait for an extended period.
“A district could also develop a written policy on school bus idling and encourage drivers to follow the policy. An idle reduction campaign can improve the air quality in and around the bus,” said Bishop.
For Laredo (Texas) Independent School District, a maximum idle time of 10 minutes was set up by the Board of Trustees. Not only must Director of Transportation Arthur Raymond make sure his drivers abide by the rule, they are required to sign a contract.
“Many of our drivers arrive at the schools early in the afternoon to pick up students,” said Raymond. “Their early arrival is based on traffic congestion with parents also arriving to pick up students.”
Drivers for Garfield School District in Escalante, Utah, must adhere to an even stricter policy — zero idling.
“We are basically idle free,” said Transportation Director Annie Eldredge. “When waiting, the engine is off, other than unloading at route stops.”
School bus contractor Kobussen Buses, which operates seven locations in Wisconsin, has more than one fail safe in place when it comes to idling. Aside from utilizing Webasto heaters since 2004 and setting an idle-time limit, the company uses another piece of technology to assure the policy’s adherence.
“We have set idle timers on all buses with computerized engines to restrict idle time,” explained Blaise Bodway, Kobussen’s general manager.
Washoe is also looking into adding a little more technology to help reduce idling. Duncan said he was in the process of identifying a GPS system to monitor the idling and to document all the information from each of the buses.
“We have a proposal on the table from Zonar that we’re trying to get the approvals to go through on, and we’re at the last stages of that,” said Duncan, explaining that GPS will be one more way that the fleet can reduce its carbon footprint and improve the air quality for all of Washoe’s students.
Reprinted from the July edition of School Transportation News magazine. All rights reserved.
|Last Updated on Wednesday, 20 July 2011 11:51|