With the EPA requirements of emissions limits for 2007 engines and conversion to ultra low sulfur diesel (ULSD), the pupil transportation industry is “going green” by default. However, some districts are going the extra mile to be environmentally friendly.
Some districts in SCHOOL BUS FLEET’s Top 100, including Volusia County (Fla.) School District and Spotsylvania County (Va.) Public Schools, have implemented AVL/GPS technology to improve route planning, reduce mileage and save on fuel costs. Volusia is also an active member of the Space Coast Clean Cities Coalition.
Denver Public Schools is exploring hybrid technology for white fleet support vehicles, having already retrofitted much of its school bus fleet with diesel oxidation catalysts and pre-heating systems.
Other districts making alternative fuel choices include Omaha (Neb.) Public Schools, which uses soy-diesel for six months out of the year. Little Rock (Ark.) School District has purchased a hybrid diesel-electric school bus, and its contractor fleet runs entirely on B20 biodiesel, while Northside Independent School District in San Antonio, Texas, is purchasing 16 full-size school buses equipped with propane engines for the 2007-08 school year.
A Top 100 standout, Salem-Keizer (Ore.) Public Schools says it was the first district in Oregon to be certified under a state Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) program promoting sustainability practices at automotive repair shops. Having dealt with compliance issues in the past, Transportation Director Michael Shields wanted to take proactive steps at Salem-Keizer to create a positive relationship with the DEQ and ensure that the transportation facilities were clean and “green.”
When Shields contacted DEQ about environmental programs for school bus shops, the department was launching an expansion of its Eco-Business Program and invited Salem-Keizer Public Schools to sign on.
The DEQ’s certification requirements included replacing solvent cleaners with a non-toxic, hot-water bath cleaner. “It basically looks like a great big dishwasher,” Shields says.
The bus shop also uses biodegradable detergents instead of chemical cleaners for cleaning parts and, because the technicians wash the shop floor every week, the transportation department invested in a floor-scrubbing machine that saves about 7,000 gallons of water per year, according to Shields.
In addition, the shop floor drains were labeled with symbols to designate between water and sewer runoff, and waste oil and other shop materials are stored in barrels to be picked up for recycling. For all these efforts, Salem-Keizer’s school bus operation was awarded DEQ certification.
Shields also investigated biodiesel as a fuel option and weighed converting buses against buying newer diesel buses. “I looked at the fact that it cost $16,000 to put the conversions on,” Shields says. “I could use that same money and put a down payment on a new bus. If I put that kind of money into an old bus, now I have a financial commitment to keep that old bus for a period of time.”
Many schools are weighing the same choice regarding alternative fuels. Says Shields, “The balance here is between a business model and a green model — where’s the balance?”
At Kent (Wash.) School District, Transportation Supervisor Don Walkup says a new biodiesel plant in the central part of the state is about to become operational. His operation did a B20 biodiesel pilot test about three or four years ago, but the cost difference between biodiesel and regular diesel was significant.
“Our goal is to look into it again this coming year and see if the costs are not prohibitive to start supplementing our fuel with biodiesel,” Walkup says.
One of the most common ways school bus operations are reducing their environmental impact is instituting anti-idling policies. Not only does this improve air quality around schools, but it also saves money by limiting fuel consumption.
Anti-idling policies typically require drivers to turn buses off when parked. These policies also limit idling the bus to warm it up in the morning before a run. At Salem-Keizer, idling during warm-up is limited to the time it takes for the driver to complete the pre-trip inspection, Shields says. “Our transportation center is across from a mall, and there are apartments across the street, so [the policy] was a result of just being good neighbors,” Shields says.
At Auburn (Wash.) School District, Transportation Director Jim Denton says retrofitting the district’s buses to meet the new EPA standards has had the greatest impact on air quality. Using a grant from the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the state’s school bus retrofit program, Auburn retrofitted 72 of the 120 buses in the fleet at that time with diesel oxidation catalysts. In 2006, the district completed the second phase of that grant, which paid for the installation of crankcase filters on older buses.
“Between the two retrofits, all our buses were then brought up to the new standards,” Denton says. “On top of that, using ULSD, we were able to reduce harmful particle pollution by 50 percent.”
Kent School District began using ULSD in its buses in 2004, two years before it was mandatory, says Walkup. Kent also worked with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency, which helped to offset the extra costs. In addition, of the district’s 140 buses, 90 are equipped with either diesel oxidation catalysts or oxidation filters.
Both Kent and Auburn school districts recycle used fluids in the garage. Solvents, motor oil and antifreeze are stored in leak-proof containers to be picked up by recycling companies for proper disposal.
In addition, Auburn’s facility, which was built in 1998, has water separators installed in the bus yard, so that when a bus leaks or when a driver washes a bus, water and oil are separated before entering the sewer system.
“Water that goes down the drains into the storm sewer has been cycled through a filter system to make sure no oils, solvents or spills of any kind can go into the storm drains,” Denton says.
The operation also recently installed an automated bus washer system that recycles and treats wash water before it goes into the storm drain system.
However, the green initiatives don’t stop at the maintenance facility. In a district-wide recycling effort, Denton says that all offices at Auburn have bins for paper, cardboard, cans and plastic bottles.
Every couple of months, Auburn’s superintendent sends out a report she receives from the maintenance department on power usage, Denton says.
“So the expectation for each of our facilities — the schools as well as other support services — is that we are to be very mindful of it,” he says. “All of our administrators are asked to compare their power usage from one month to the next and to the previous year, and if we are quite a bit above, the question is asked of us, why? What are you doing differently? So it’s a district push to do our share to make sure that we aren’t using any more power than necessary to run our building efficiently. Environmental concerns are absolutely a priority at our district, a very high priority.”