Fort Zumwalt School District in St. Charles Country, Missouri, is realizing the true benefits of propane-powered school buses after running the vehicles for more than a decade.
The St. Louis suburban school district set out to reduce bus emissions and costs, which led to the adoption of propane vehicles. It became the first district in the state to add propane to its fleet, according to a case study by the Missouri Propane Education and Research Council (MPERC).
The district consists of 26 school sites and transports 12,000 students each day via 174 school buses. Each one travels about 10,000 miles annually.
In 2010, the transportation department started researching new alternative fuels options. Propane autogas stood out due to its low infrastructure fueling prices and ease of implementation, the case study explained.
“We could achieve our district’s two major objectives when it came to cleaner school buses: Saving money and forging a greener footprint,” stated Jeff Schwepker, the district’s director of transportation.
A year later, Fort Zumwalt purchased its first eight Blue Bird Vision Propane buses. The district runs now a total of 70 Blue Bird propane school buses and has two on-site propane autogas fueling stations.
MPERC discussed the three options for propane fueling. One is a mobile fueling option, where a local propane supplier fills up the buses from a delivery truck. Another option is fueling at a public propane station. The last option, which Fort Zumwalt opted for, is onsite infrastructure. MPERC stated most school districts choose this option for its convenience and low cost.
When considering onsite fueling, Schwepker cautioned other fleet operators to plan the pump station wisely and to take into consideration fleet size, routes, budget and space.
Due to propane being a low-carbon and low-emission fuel, state and federal grants are available to help with its implementation. Fort Zumwalt reportedly takes advantage of federal excise tax credits each year, which help reduce the cost of propane. The Alternative Fuels Data Center also provides financial data and tools to help districts within the state, plus MPERC offers financial incentives to offset the cost of propane.
Fort Zumwalt reportedly uses about 70,000 gallons of propane each year.
Benefits Experienced by The Missouri District
The use of propane not only benefits the district but the surrounding community, due to the reduction of harmful emissions. The case study states that propane autogas is non-toxic, non-carcinogenic, and non-corrosive.
In 2013, Fort Zumwalt won the Community Leadership in Environmental Awareness Now award, presented by MPERC.
The switch to propane also saves the district money. According to the case study, Schwepker said the district is paying $1.36 a gallon for propane, compared to $2.32 gallon for diesel. The nearly 50-percent savings translates to about $70,000 per year for the district. The total cost of ownership is also lower, as the district also saves on fuel, fluids and filters.
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“The drivers were a little tentative at first. But that dissipated quickly when they realized that the new buses warmed up the cabins quickly, a major plus in our Midwest winter cold,” Schwepker stated in the case study. “Warm-up time at idle is comparable to a car.”
The new buses are also quiet, which allows the drivers to hear what is going on behind them with the students. “The quiet operation is a big advantage to the neighborhoods in the mornings,” he added.
Schwepker is reportedly planning to continue replacing aging diesel buses with propane autogas. Currently, 40 percent of his fleet is propane.
Three hundred propane buses currently operate across Missouri, bringing the total to more than 21,000 across the nation.