A new state law aims to accelerate the process of getting a commercial driver’s license by enabling private vendors to conduct the knowledge and skills tests.
When Will Rosa’s school district applied for a federal highway grant to buy compressed natural gas (CNG) school buses, he says that they initially got “some strange looks.”
The East-West Gateway Council of Governments, which administers federal highway grants in the St. Louis region, “had never seen someone like a school district there applying for money. It’s mostly for highways,” says Rosa, the director of transportation for Parkway School District, which is based in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield, Mo.
But the district had a compelling purpose for the funds: to improve air quality at schools and throughout the community, and to reduce students’ exposure to pollutants. The district noted in its grant application that the number of its students who suffer from asthma and allergies has “skyrocketed” over the past 10 years.
Rosa says that although he and his team “weren’t really confident” after the first meeting with East-West Gateway Council of Governments officials, “We won the award. … They liked that we were doing the right thing for kids.”
The award was sizable: $1.5 million, to be used for buying CNG school buses and building a CNG fueling station. The project would make Parkway one of just two districts in the state to use CNG buses, and the district’s new fueling station would be one of only a few CNG facilities in the region.
Lower fuel costs
Parkway acquired 30 CNG school buses, which were delivered this fall and winter. The grant covered 80% of the additional cost of each CNG bus compared to the cost of comparable diesel buses.
The new units, easily identified by their bright green rub rails (which Rosa notes is helpful to first responders), are 72-passenger Thomas Built Saf-T-Liner HDX CNG buses, purchased through Midwest Bus Sales. They make up 20% of Parkway’s total school bus fleet of 150, the rest of which are diesel.
Rosa says that Parkway has long been a “green-friendly” district in other ways — from running a recycling center (which is now outsourced) to installing solar panels on facility roofs — so shifting to alternative fuels is a natural extension of that mindset.
As for the reasoning on choosing CNG specifically, Rosa cites multiple factors, including lower emissions, reducing dependence on foreign oil and fuel cost savings.
“The cost of crude oil is going to increase,” he says. “Natural gas is domestically produced and available.”
With the lower price of natural gas compared to diesel, Parkway estimates that it will save around $100,000 in fuel costs in the next school year with the 30 CNG buses.
Another benefit that Parkway quickly noticed with the CNG buses is their quieter operation. That has a positive impact both for the community outside the bus and for the students and driver inside the bus.
“Some of the neighbors and parents have commented about the quietness of the buses on our Facebook page,” Rosa says. On board, “The kids are quieter — they’re not talking as loudly.”
Fred Matlack, Parkway’s manager of fleet maintenance, says that he has gotten good feedback from the drivers who have taken the wheel of the new CNG buses. One of those drivers is his wife.
“She loves it,” Matlack says, adding that the quieter onboard environment is a particularly popular feature. “She says, ‘Half the time I have to look in the mirror to make sure the kids are still awake.’”
In addition to subsidizing the higher purchase price of the new buses, the highway grant that Parkway received was intended to cover 80% of the cost of the CNG fueling station. However, the district later decided to make some modifications that increased the price of the station, so the grant actually covered less than 80% of the cost.
Parkway had initially planned to install time-fill fueling equipment, but they later decided to go with fast-fill infrastructure.
“It’s a better fit for our property and our needs,” Rosa says of the fast-fill option.
For a time-fill application, vehicles are refueled overnight for around 10 to 12 hours. The fast-fill application, Rosa says, “is just like going to the gas station — it takes five to 10 minutes” to refuel.
Parkway’s new Saf-T-Liner HDX CNG buses, which are Type D (transit style), have 65-gallon fuel tanks. As of press time, Rosa said that his operation was just starting to track data like the buses’ range and fuel economy.
To promote the CNG project, Parkway planned to hold a dedication event on April 3 at one of the district’s high schools.
The district assembled a team to plan the celebration and to develop a video about the CNG project. The event, dubbed “Growing Up Green,” was expected to draw district students and staff, community members and local dignitaries.
“We’ll have the 30 CNG buses rolling in, a band, politicians, a video, hot dogs, T-shirts,” Rosa said in late February. “It will be fun.”
Key points from Parkway's grant application
For its CNG bus project, Parkway School District applied for a federal highway grant through the East-West Gateway Council of Governments. Parkway Director of Transportation Will Rosa says that grants are typically used for highway projects, but council officials were impressed by Parkway’s proposal and its mission of “doing the right thing for kids.” Here are highlights from the district’s grant application narrative, which was written by Denise Pupillo, Parkway’s director of grant writing and gifted students:
• Each day … our students, school staff, parents and neighborhoods are exposed to toxins and emissions that cause health problems like heart disease, asthma, emphysema and cancer.
• The health benefits directly associated through transitioning from diesel to CNG buses for students, teachers and administrators near or at schools are numerous, and this project directly aligns to the region’s transportation plan.
• The number of students in Parkway School District suffering from asthma and allergies [has] skyrocketed over the past 10 years.
• Parkway’s project goal is to acquire funds needed to purchase 30 CNG school buses and a fueling station to immediately reduce the amount of emissions emitted into the environment.
• Parkway and its partners are committed to this project and, if funded, will continue supporting the project financially by purchasing additional CNG buses and approximately 100 other on-site vehicles through our own replacement cycle.
• We intend to have our students be a part of this project in each phase … through ongoing student forums, field site visits and mentorships.
To download Parkway’s full project justification, go to Schoolbusfleet.com/ParkwayGrant.
Auto Safety House, the Thomas Built Buses dealership for Arizona, will operate as a brand under the ownership of W.W. Williams, a provider of repair services and products.
Kiesha Shannon of Ohio pleads guilty to attacking her daughter’s bus driver and is sentenced to three years of probation. The judge says he had limited sentencing options, which is why he didn’t give her jail time.
The dealership’s event recognizes top pupil transportation providers, including the 2017 Alabama Love the Bus Driver of the Year.
NYAPT asks the state Legislature to continue the funding it is currently providing; add funding for pre-K students, bus monitors, and security; and increase support for the school bus driver training program.
The research by West Virginia University scientists sheds light on the sources and amount of greenhouse-gas methane that is emitted in the natural gas supply chain.
SynTec Seating Solutions is offering black back seat covers for its S3B and S3C school bus seats.
The new 10-year deal makes Duval County Public Schools the contractor’s biggest customer.
Mid-South Bus Center in Tennessee and Warner Bus Industries in Saskatchewan are the latest dealers to become certified in the collaborative effort between the school bus manufacturer and its dealers.
New legislation designed to support a growing number of homeless students leaves some transportation providers grappling with logistics and costs. More training and inter-staff communication are recommended.
The state acquires 26 Blue Bird propane buses as part of its efforts to update its aging fleet.
Florida officers arrest Zachary Martin for allegedly stealing a school bus and attempting to elude officers during a traffic stop.
The statewide program offers $10 million for purchasing school buses powered by electricity, renewable diesel, natural gas, or propane.
Fill out our annual Maintenance Survey, which covers such key topics as school bus age, parts expenditures, and technician pay.
In addition to donating time and money to benefit local students, the school bus OEM and its employees recently gave $300,000 to the United Way.