This school year is going to look different than any that have come before it, and school transportation directors may have the most difficult jobs in all of education.
With so much uncertainty surrounding how districts will be required to keep children safe while at school — and the additional funds required to make that happen — it’s very likely many districts will be asking their transportation leaders to do more with less.
Safely transporting children to and from school will likely look different in many states and school districts, whether that’s in the form of social distancing students riding the bus — requiring more vehicles than normal to get the same number of children to the classroom — or, operating additional bus routes with shorter classroom schedules. The new normal could be difficult. School transportation directors are no doubt looking for ways to adapt to a new normal while saving money at all costs, and one way to do that is by transitioning to an alternative energy fleet.
Electric school buses in particular are receiving attention as a cost-effective solution during a time when budgets are facing extra scrutiny. But take a closer look, and you’ll see only one alternative fuel can really help a district get ahead.
For a school bus fleet to make a successful transition to an alternative fuel, that solution has to provide a financial, environmental, and operational benefit. Propane autogas is the only energy source that checks all of these boxes. School districts are already turning to propane autogas to mediate the new normal they are facing this fall.
Cypress Fairbank ISD, in Texas, needed more buses in order to comply with social distancing guidelines that placed fewer children on each bus. The district turned to propane autogas as an affordable way to increase the number of buses to safely transport students to and from school.
Compared to electric, propane autogas school buses are on average one-third of the cost. That means a school district like Cypress Fairbank could purchase three new propane autogas school buses for the cost of a single electric bus.
The average fuel cost for propane autogas is 30 to 50 percent lower than what districts are paying for diesel, and because propane autogas is a clean energy source, the engine will be less costly to maintain. Those low fuel and maintenance costs help propane autogas provide districts with the lowest total cost-of-ownership and a return on investment within 24 to 36 months in many cases.
Add in the cost differences for the installation of recharging stations electric buses require — up to 10 times the cost of propane autogas infrastructure — and the chasm between the two grows even wider.
School transportation directors can also take advantage of several financial opportunities to transition to propane autogas, like the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit, Volkswagen Settlement funds, and other federal and state grants. They should check with their area Clean Cities Coalition to learn more about what funding may be available where they live.
With propane autogas, there is a reduction in emissions over the lifecycle of the energy used in the vehicle without increasing cost or losing efficiency. And new engine technology is making it comparable to electric school buses when you compare the entire source-to-site emissions.
These “ultra-low NOx” engines have emissions that are 90 percent lower than any EPA standards and are certified to the optional ultra-low NOx emissions standard as defined by the California Air Resources Board (CARB) for heavy-duty engines with .02 grams per brake horsepower-horse.
This is profoundly important because NOx emissions are a known trigger for issues like asthma, bronchitis, and other respiratory problems students may be facing. Lowering these emissions is not only beneficial for the them, but it’s also significant to the health of drivers, too.
As for its operational benefits, propane autogas is miles ahead than electric — literally. That is, propane autogas buses don’t have the range restrictions of electric that could require them to return to recharge in the middle of the school day. This could become a problem as routes may change from day to day depending on new class and school schedules this year.
In cold-weather states, many districts report needing additional power in electric buses just to heat the cabins before leaving in the morning, another headache (and add-on cost) that is non-existent with propane autogas buses.
While so much uncertainty is ahead this fall for school districts and their transportation directors, this much is certain: propane autogas can help districts do more with less. Visit propane.com/for-my-business/school-transportation to learn more.