Named after the hometown of one of the city’s founders following a coin toss in the mid 1800s, Portland, Ore., has developed into a city that has become known as one of the most environmentally-friendly in the United States, even winning the title of America’s Greenest City by Popular Science magazine.
Some of those kudos are a result of actions taken by the transportation department at Portland Public Schools (PPS), which decided to go green before it was “cool.” In 1983, the district converted its school bus fleet and the contracted fleet to propane, something that was honored by the Propane Education and Research Council in 2004 with the Propane Exceptional Energy Fleet Award.
“The use of propane aligns with our green initiatives as our public and the environment benefit from significantly lower amounts of some harmful emissions and greenhouse gases,” said Andy Leibenguth, interim transportation director for PPS. “We also see the benefit of reduced fuel costs as most of the propane consumed in the U.S. is produced domestically and distributed through established infrastructures.”
The benefits of propane school buses are the average cost of fuel can be up to 50 percent less than gasoline or diesel, less required maintenance and a vehicle life cycle that is twice that of buses powered by conventional fuel. Propane also emits 20 percent less nitrogen oxide, about 60 percent less carbon monoxide and a quarter fewer greenhouse gases.
Up until now, virtually all of the more than 325 propane school buses owned by the district or that are contracted are the result of engine conversions. But last month, PPS began operating the first factory-direct, propane-powered Type A school buses, which are manufactured by Collins Bus Corporation. The five, 18-passenger Collins NexBus Propane school buses in Portland are built on a dual rear-wheel GM chassis. Collins said the vehicles exhibits excellent cold-weather starting, have a range of 300 miles and are available in capacities of up to 32 passengers.
PPS, which also contracts with First Student, has also learned that the best way to accomplish the job of transporting students is through partnering with others. Of the close to 42,000 students in the district, only about 7,300 receive yellow bus service. To increase the number of student travelers, PPS works with the local public transit authority that ferries another 13,000 students to school every day. Through a waiver with the Oregon Department of Education, which removes the district’s requirement to provide transportation for all high school students, PPS was able to work out a partnership between the City of Portland and public transportation provider TriMet to create a program that provides public transit to all high school students.
“Portland Public Schools Transportation Services Department is committed to the safe and efficient transportation of all eligible Portland Public Schools students in compliance with federal, state and district guidelines,” said Leibenguth. “Our mission is to ‘set the standard’ in pupil transportation.”