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HomeSpecial ReportsPropane Best Immediate Option For Greening Fleet, Says Rural Missouri School District

Propane Best Immediate Option For Greening Fleet, Says Rural Missouri School District

When electric isn’t the right fit, at least not yet, school district leaders look toward
other green fleet options. For Neosho School District in Missouri, located in the southwest corner of the state, propane has stood out as the winning choice for the past 10 years.

Marty Marks, the transportation director for the district, explained that the director before him spearheaded the transition to propane through grants. He shared that in addition to having funding help, the cost savings for the district furthered validated their decision to adopt propane in 2014.

He added that it took about a year to get all the groundwork done, the school buses ordered, and the propane tank installed on-site, noting the process started around 2012 or 2013.

Marks joined the district three years ago. Currently the fleet consists of 59 school buses, 17 of which are powered by propane. The propane buses are in regular operation alongside 35 gasoline buses and seven diesels. “I can’t say all 17 are out there every single day, but the majority are,” he shared, adding Neosho currently has a 2,000-gallon propane tank and three fuelers.

The fuelers conducted training through an AmeriGas. program. The fuel supplier sends representatives to the district site to train employees.

“We fuel daily, just depending on the amount of propane that we go through, depending on trips and things like that,” Marks said. “[The supplier] comes out a minimum of once a week, sometimes even twice a week. Just depending on how much propane we actually use [to refuel the tank.]”

He added that every year the district purchases about five buses. This year, two of those were propane. In terms of activity trips, he said he feels comfortable dispatching a propane bus on trips of up to two hours in duration. However, some of their trips are several hours long, and it’s rare to find a propane station that’s open later in the evening for the trip home.

In terms of current propane availability for school routes, Marks said Neosho hasn’t had any issues while providing economies of scale. “Our entire fleet is manufactured by Blue Bird—whether it’s a propane bus or a gasoline bus, you have a lot of the same parts. The braking systems are the same, the exhaust systems are the same, the bus seats are the same,” he noted. “In that sense, keeping all of our buses through Blue Bird has been awesome for us. We’re not having to find different manufacturers for different parts.”

He continued, “And as far as the propane itself, we have an AmeriGas location here in our town. They keep us fueled and we never have any problems with it.” He recalled when a fuel pump station went offline because it required a new part. AmeriGas sent a delivery truck to the location every day to fill up their buses, without an extra charge. “It was just a really good customer service,” he said.

Over a month-long period, his buses travel 50,000 miles, a third of which are powered by propane. Going forward, Neosho continues to prioritize propane and gasoline as it moves away from diesel.

“In our opinion, just looking at the data that’s out there and the price point for the electric buses, it’s just not a fit for our district at this point,” Marks said, adding that Neosho doesn’t qualify for the priority status given to districts with a lower economic status. “So, we haven’t received the grants for free electric buses. We’re holding off on the electric buses until there’s more statistics and they prove themselves a little bit better and the cost comes down as well”

He shared that gasoline remains a large part of the fleet out of convenience and availability. He provided an example from this past winter, when a field trip traveled north of Kansas City, about three hours away and in cold temperatures.

Neosho decided to send gasoline school buses on the trip. Multiple neighboring schools attending the same event used diesel school buses. Marks shared that the diesel buses had problems running in the colder temperature. Neosho buses ended up transporting many of the neighboring students home as well.

“We were able to help out the other districts,” he said. “And we could have done that on propane as well. But that was just a little bit outside of our comfort zone knowing that the buses were going to need to stay running for a longer period of time due to the extreme cold temperatures. So, for us gasoline has been great. And propane has been equally as great, and we’re just working on getting away from the diesel buses.”

Good Partners
Marks shared that customer service is one of the biggest aspects of partnerships with prospective fuel suppliers. “When you have great customer service, you get good pricing on your propane, and you get good pricing on your buses,” he said, adding that the ongoing support helps the district receive parts in addition to the employee training. “I think customer service is [important]. Just having dependability on your [vendors]. It makes your job a whole lot easier.”

He added that propane definitely isn’t going away. He shared that being able to rely on suppliers alleviates any price concerns.

“We have a set price for a certain number of gallons,” he said. “And based on what we know, what we’ve used in the past, we can pretty much guarantee, forecast how many gallons of propane we use and therefore we’re getting [it] at a lower than market price. And again, you wouldn’t commit if you didn’t have good customer service or a good relationship with your vendors.”

Editor’s Note: As reprinted in the June 2024 issue of School Transportation News.


Related: School Bus Contractors Share Why They Switched to Propane
Related: Why the Solution is Propane and Electric for Bus Fleets
Related: (STN Podcast E183) Making Progress: Wyoming Rising Star + Propane, Non-Yellow Bus Convos
Related: EPA Clean School Bus Program Allocates Funding for 269 Propane Autogas School Buses

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