The 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law committed $5 billion to the Environmental Protection Agency to fund a program replacing aging diesel school buses with environmentally friendly alternatives. And while many administrators are talking about the program in terms of electric buses, the Clean School Bus program also allocates funding for alternative fuel vehicles and near-zero-emission vehicles, including school buses powered by propane autogas.
For many districts around the country, propane school buses are a more viable option than electric vehicles because they offer a lower total cost of ownership while still reducing greenhouse gas emissions and giving students a safe, healthy ride to school.
There are nearly half a million diesel and gasoline school buses in operation around the country today. Converting these vehicles to clean alternatives is a major step in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Propane school buses fall into the EPA’s category of “clean school buses” because they reduce 96% of greenhouse gases compared to diesel and emit nearly zero particulate matter.
Half of the EPA’s Clean School Bus program funding is earmarked for clean school buses over the next five years. State and local government entities, contractors that facilitate bus or equipment sales, nonprofit school transportation associations, and tribal organizations are eligible to apply.
The Hidden Costs of Electric
While electric buses eliminate tailpipe emissions, they also come with steep upfront costs that can be prohibitive for many districts. For example, according to the Argonne National Lab’s Alternative Fuel Life-Cycle Environmental and Economic Transportation Tool, the purchase price of a new Type C electric bus in 2020 averaged $350,000, while propane buses averaged $106,000. That means savvy administrators can secure three propane buses for less than the cost of one. Collectively, these propane buses reduce more lifecycle emissions every year than a single electric school bus.
The infrastructure investment required for electric school buses also poses a fiscal challenge for many districts. Charging stations for electric buses can cost anywhere from $80k to $300k to build — and are still subject to disruptions from the electric grid when weather or supply causes a strain. Propane autogas offers five refueling options to choose from — all of which cost a fraction of the cost of a new electric charging station.
Saving Time and Money on Maintenance
Fleet managers looking to upgrade their fleets with federal funding must also consider repair and maintenance needs. Electric buses bring new codes, standards, and training, and replacement parts for new electric powertrain technology can be expensive and difficult to procure. Propane buses are less disruptive to fleet mechanics and deliver the lowest total cost of ownership of any bus available. Districts can apply those savings towards more teachers, classroom supplies, and extracurricular activities.
Propane buses also offer a reliable way to nearly eliminate emissions for districts concerned with the range of electric buses, such as districts facing frequent cold or adverse weather, long routes, or challenging terrain.
Add Propane to Your Fleet with the Clean School Bus Program
For these reasons and more, propane buses present an opportunity for districts to use federal funding to transform their fleets—without sacrificing uptime, cost of ownership, or the health and safety of their littlest passengers.
Applications for Clean School Bus program rebates opened in May and will remain open until August 19th, with selectees notified of their funding in October. The Propane Education & Research Council is offering resources and information to help administrators compare the benefits of propane buses to diesel and electric options and to prepare their applications.
Learn more at BetterOurBuses.com.
Learn more about the Clean School Bus program at EPA.gov/CleanSchoolBus.