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May 21, 2013  |   Comments (2)   |   Post a comment

Green ambitions pay off for Kansas district

George Taylor of Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools was determined to find funding for alt-fuel buses. Now, with 47 CNG buses and four hybrids, the district is contributing to cleaner air and saving $350,000 in one school year.

by Thomas McMahon - Also by this author


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Quinton Zenon, a utility mechanic for Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools, performs maintenance on the district’s CNG compressors.
<p>Quinton Zenon, a utility mechanic for Kansas City (Kan.) Public Schools, performs maintenance on the district’s CNG compressors.</p>

Fueling system
The CNG buses were put into service when the district's new fueling infrastructure was completed in early 2011.

The infrastructure, which cost $1.75 million, includes 35 time-fill dispensers with dual hoses, allowing each station to fuel two buses at a time. With a total of 70 fueling positions and the district having 47 CNG buses, the infrastructure could support another 23 buses.

With the slow-fill application, "the vehicles come in in the evenings, and the drivers hook them up," Taylor says. "In the morning, they disconnect and have fuel for the day — the magic has happened overnight."

Taylor notes that a crucial element of the CNG fueling system is that there are back-ups in place. Each CNG bus has a fuel capacity equivalent to 65 gallons of diesel, and the fueling infrastructure includes two compressors.

"If I have a single compressor failure, I can still fuel — just not at capacity," he says. "If everything failed, I could run for a week without having to fuel.

"In the school bus industry, that's critical. I don't want to have to make a call to the superintendent: 'This wonderful project I have that's saving us money and cleaning the environment — by the way, we're down and can't run for two weeks.'"

Multiple benefits
Kansas City Public Schools acquired its hybrid buses for the task of transporting students with disabilities.

"Our most fragile population is the special-ed students," Taylor says. "We're seeing a small fuel savings [with the hybrids], but the biggest benefit is the cleaner air for our special population."

Regarding air quality, Taylor says that the CNG buses have had a "huge impact on the community."

While the district's transportation depot had rural surroundings when it was built, growth in the area led to housing popping up around the facility. During the winter, cold starting the diesel buses generated "a cloud that hangs over our location," Taylor says, which the neighbors were not happy about.

Acquiring the cleaner-burning CNG buses "was a huge step in alleviating that problem," Taylor says.

With the lower cost of CNG compared to diesel, Kansas City Public Schools has seen significant savings with its green fleet. In the 2011-12 school year, the district's fuel costs were $350,000 lower than they would have been if the buses were all diesel.

"The savings are dynamic — it depends on the price of diesel," Taylor says. "As the price of diesel reduces, the savings reduce. But my opinion is that the price of diesel will continue to escalate."

An unexpected advantage of the CNG buses has been in student behavior. With the CNG engines, which are in the rear and run quieter, "It's a lot quieter in the bus," Taylor says. "We've seen improved discipline — the kids seem to be more serene."

Loftier ambitions
Kansas City Public Schools' 47 CNG buses and four hybrid buses make up nearly a third of its total fleet of 160 school buses, the rest of which are diesels. The 2012-13 school year was the last for Taylor, who is now retiring. But he still has hopes for the district increasing its alternative-fuel use.

"It would be my goal and dream to have our fleet at least 95% natural gas," Taylor says, adding that he emphasizes the word "dream." "Given the current economic conditions for our district, there just isn't enough money to do this. ... But as soon as the economic environment improves, that's exactly where I would want to take the fleet."

Other school districts in the region have taken note of Kansas City Public Schools' alternative-fuel project, and they often call with questions about the district's experience.

Taylor says he encourages other operations to "do the math" on what they could save with alternative-fuel buses, even if the level of grant money that his district received a few years ago isn't currently available.

"It looks costly on the front end," Taylor says of the initial capital involved. "But if you believe that diesel is going to go through the roof like I do, you can justify it without the grant funding." 

Fleet Facts
School buses: 160
Alternative fuels used: CNG, hybrid-electric
Students transported daily: 10,000
Schools served: 47
Transportation staff: 225
Area of service: 50 sq. miles   

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If anyone has any info on where to go to get some information on grants, please let me know. I would like to push this initiative forward in my district, but need some more knowledge and numbers on effectively doing it.

Aaron    |    Aug 28, 2013 09:16 AM

I am really interested in this as we live in a town that has a lot of resources but seems uninterested in putting it's money where it's mouth is concerning green initiatives. The school buses in our town are old, belching, diesel fueled hulks that make you sick when you spend more than 20 minutes on them. The district has a garden at every school, but standing near one of these buses, much less a whole fleet makes you worry about the planet. I am interested in starting a movement to change to hybrid buses or maybe electric as they perfect the technology. I'm looking for organizations who would support me in this endeavor or how to go about getting such a grant form government. I'm very concerned, but don't know how to get started. It will be a big uphill climb.

Melissa Chepuru    |    May 27, 2013 07:09 AM

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