Alternative Fuels

Alt-fuel school bus options are growing

Kelly Aguinaldo
Posted on May 22, 2014
The School District of Indian River County in Vero Beach, Fla., has been operating Propane-Powered Vision school buses from Blue Bird Corp. since 2009, and the district has 26 units in its 111-bus fleet.

The School District of Indian River County in Vero Beach, Fla., has been operating Propane-Powered Vision school buses from Blue Bird Corp. since 2009, and the district has 26 units in its 111-bus fleet.

Blue Bird propane buses enhance safety for Florida district’s students    

The transportation team at the School District of Indian River County in Vero Beach, Fla., has seen many benefits as a result of operating Propane-Powered Vision school buses from Blue Bird Corp. since 2009, including one safety benefit that was unexpected.

“Your ability to hear in and around the bus is enhanced by the quietness of the engine,” Director of Transportation George Millar says. “That’s very important when the driver is trying to communicate with students on the bus, or when students are trying to communicate with the driver from their seats. It’s also important when they come up to a railroad crossing.”

He adds that the propane buses benefit students from an environmental perspective by emitting less particulate matter than diesel buses, thereby contributing to better air quality in loading and unloading zones at school sites.

Millar says he was once giving an interview for a segment of the TV show MotorWeek about the district’s Propane-Powered Visions, and to illustrate his point about the reduced emissions, he rubbed his fingers on the inside of the tail pipe of a bus that had been on the road for a while. “The only thing that came off on my fingers was a little bit of rust residue. There was no soot,” he says.      

The School District of Indian River County has 26 Propane-Powered Vision school buses in its 111-bus fleet, and the operation averages about 20,000 miles per bus each year. Millar estimates that when the price of liquid propane is low, his department’s annual savings in fuel costs are around $4,000 per propane bus compared to the fuel costs for diesel-powered buses.

“All of the buses are currently under a warranty service agreement, so we haven’t seen a cost savings in terms of maintenance yet,” Millar adds. “However, when you look at the general maintenance, such as a tune-up, the cost of the parts associated with the engine and drivetrain are a little less expensive with the propane buses [compared to a diesel bus]. For example, a diesel injector can be several hundred dollars, whereas a liquid propane injector is less than $100. We’re also looking at less labor. For example, it won’t take as long to change the oil because we’re not dealing with the same quantity that we are with a diesel bus.”  

Director of Transportation George Millar says his department’s annual savings in fuel costs are around $4,000 per propane bus compared to the fuel costs for diesel-powered buses.
Director of Transportation George Millar says his department’s annual savings in fuel costs are around $4,000 per propane bus compared to the fuel costs for diesel-powered buses.

The condition of the roads in Indian River County played into Millar’s decision to go with propane.

“In our county, 45% to 48% of the roads are still dirt,” he explains. “We have a heavy agricultural area in Indian River County. With that said, the CNG buses are rear engine, and the dirt would be clogging filters significantly, so we would be changing filters frequently.”  

The district has a propane refueling station onsite at its transportation facility, and Millar says it’s in the process of being enhanced with an 18,000-gallon tank and two double-hose dispensers that will enable four buses to be fueled at a time.

The drivers who operate the Propane-Powered Visions have been trained on how to refuel their buses.  

For more information about Blue Bird’s Propane-Powered Vision school bus, visit www.blue-bird.com.

The new Collins Bus CNG Type A school bus is built on a Ford E450 chassis.
The new Collins Bus CNG Type A school bus is built on a Ford E450 chassis.

Collins Bus Corp. CNG bus delivers high visibility, reduced maintenance costs

Type A school bus manufacturer Collins Bus Corp. has added a compressed natural gas (CNG)-powered bus to its alternative-fuel lineup.

The bus is built on a Ford E450 chassis and has a gross vehicle weight rating of 14,050 pounds.

Officials for Collins Bus Corp., which is among the brands of the Allied Specialty Vehicles (ASV) Bus Division, say that Ford maintains a full engine and powertrain limited warranty — 5 years or 60,000 miles — meaning that the original Ford warranty is not voided as a result of the conversion process.

The new school bus is a “dedicated CNG,” so the entire gasoline fuel system is removed. The engine prep package includes hardened components, such as valves and valve seats to withstand higher operating temperatures and lower lubricity of gaseous fuels.

In addition, a one-piece, high-strength, low-alloy tube steel for the roof bows, along with interlocking longitudinal members, result in a significantly stronger structure that is rigid in all directions to resist twist and crush forces.

The Collins Bus CNG model will have 29 gasoline gallon equivalents of CNG on board.
The Collins Bus CNG model will have 29 gasoline gallon equivalents of CNG on board.

The bus can accommodate 24 to 28 passengers, and company officials say it has an estimated range of 250 to 300 miles. This is the same fuel mileage as gasoline, assuming the vehicle is achieving 10 miles per gallon. The bus will have 29 gasoline gallon equivalents of CNG on board.

“Collins Bus introduced the industry’s first liquid propane Type A school bus in 2010, and our new CNG Type A model is the logical alternative fuel next step that allows us to meet the evolving needs of our diverse customer base,” says Kent Tyler, president and CEO of the ASV Bus Division. “As a dedicated CNG built on a Ford E450 chassis, our new model can extend the time between tune-ups and oil changes, resulting in less engine wear and reduced maintenance costs.”

Officials also note that CNG yields fuel cost savings; it is typically 25% to 40% cheaper than crude oil on an energy-equivalent basis.

CNG benefits the environment by reducing carbon dioxide emissions by 20% to 25% compared to gasoline. Another advantage to running vehicles powered by CNG, Collins Bus says, is that there is an abundant supply: Approximately 98% of the natural gas used in the U.S. is from North America, and there is more than 120 years of available domestic supply.

There are several standout features of Collins Bus Corp.’s new CNG bus. The bus has the largest passenger side cab view window in the industry, according to the company. The driver-view windows are nearly 700 square inches, delivering high visibility.

Collins Bus says the company is currently taking orders for the CNG bus, and production will begin in late October.

For more information about Collins Bus Corp., visit www.collinsbuscorp.com.


Lion Bus all-electric bus in development

Lion Bus has announced plans to develop an all-electric school bus.
An article in Journal de Montreal reports that the government is investing $675,000 in the project, and Lion Bus and its research partners — B3CG Interconnect, TM4 and the Advanced National Transportation Center — are investing a combined $350,000.

Lion Bus President Marc Bedard told the publication that since the company launched, the goal has been to develop a vehicle that stands out in the pupil transportation market. “We wanted the most energy-efficient bus possible, and this project is materializing itself,” he said.

A feasibility study has been completed, and as of press time, a prototype is set to be revealed in June, according to Lion Bus Marketing Manager Marc-Andre Page.

Bedard told Journal de Montreal that the company ultimately would like to produce over 2,000 buses that would be sold on a 10-year scale.

Natural Resources Minister Martine Ouellet added that each bus will be able to save 8,000 liters in diesel per year (equivalent to 2,113 gallons) and approximately $10,000.

Page said the electric bus is scheduled to be completed this summer for it to be on the road when the new school year begins.

To read the article from Journal de Montreal, go here.

Meanwhile, Lion Bus and its partners announced in April that they have entered into an agreement with EnerDel Inc., a supplier of lithium-ion batteries, to develop and manufacture traction batteries for Lion Bus.

The 72-seat school bus will be equipped with an advanced electric powertrain with more than 100 kwh of lithium-ion batteries.

The system will allow an expected range of more than 50 miles. The battery components will be built by EnerDel in Indiana, and the battery and wiring harness assembly will be completed by B3CG in Quebec.

For more information about Lion Bus, visit www.lionbuses.com.

Thomas Built Buses’ new propane-powered Saf-T-Liner C2.
Thomas Built Buses’ new propane-powered Saf-T-Liner C2.

Thomas Built propane Type C maximizes safety, boosts efficiency

A new offering has been added to Thomas Built Buses’ alternative-fuel lineup: The propane-powered Saf-T-Liner C2 school bus. Vice President of Sales, Marketing and Service Ken Hedgecock says the company has been producing this bus for a few months and is delivering units to customers. It is available at all dealer locations.  

At press time, Thomas Built was expected to ramp up full production of the bus in late May or early June.   

The bus is the company’s Saf-T-Liner C2 Type C school bus with a propane autogas engine. It features an Allison 2300 PTS Series transmission and an 8.0-liter liquid propane gas engine with a fully integrated CleanFUEL USA liquid propane injection system. The two-tank setup has an estimated 300-mile range with a 70-gallon capacity. The bus can accommodate up to 81 passengers.  

“Like the diesel-powered Saf-T-Liner C2, this propane version is built to maximize safety, optimize efficiency, enhance driver comfort and provide maximum visibility,” Hedgecock says. “The bus features side skirt reinforcement and extended roof bows, which extend below the floor. Other features include fuel tanks mounted between the frame rails, a curved and bonded one-piece windshield, and proprietary Saf-T-Bond adhesive joints and rivets.”

The propane C2 features fuel tanks mounted between the frame rails.
The propane C2 features fuel tanks mounted between the frame rails.

Thomas Built Buses took ease of maintenance into consideration when designing the bus. Hedgecock says the propane C2 features multiplex wiring, which enhances serviceability with instant diagnostic codes, reduces electrical failure points and also reduces the weight of the bus.

Thomas Built Buses’ green vehicle lineup also includes the propane-fueled Minotour Type A school bus, which the company has offered since 2012, and the Saf-T-Liner HDX Type D and the Minotour Type A compressed natural gas (CNG) models.

Hedgecock notes that school districts and bus companies should think about several factors when they are considering integrating alternative-fueled buses into their fleet.

One factor is the total cost of ownership of the purchase: the cost of the bus, the fueling station, training for technicians and any special tools that may be needed to maintain an alternative-fueled bus. He says fueling stations can be expensive to install, so he advises pupil transportation operations to consider what types of fuel are most prevalent in their area and use this information to help in deciding the best type of fueling station to install.

“School districts should take into account grants or funds that are available for the purchase, along with how long it will take to recoup the costs of the overall purchase,” Hedgecock adds.

He says operations should also have a “one-on-one conversation with their local dealer to determine the best type of alternative fuel for them,” which can be helpful since the types of routes the buses will be used for must play into the purchase decision.

For more information about Thomas Built Buses’ propane-powered Saf-T-Liner C2 school bus, visit www.thomasbus.com.


Jason Flores, director of transportation at Kings Canyon Unified School District, says the district’s SSTe buses from Trans Tech Bus “complement” other measures the district has taken over the years to protect students’ health. “We must do our part to serve as an example fleet,” he says.
Jason Flores, director of transportation at Kings Canyon Unified School District, says the district’s SSTe buses from Trans Tech Bus “complement” other measures the district has taken over the years to protect students’ health. “We must do our part to serve as an example fleet,” he says.

California district expects $10K savings per bus with Trans Tech electric buses

Kings Canyon Unified School District in Reedley, Calif., took delivery of its first Trans Tech Bus SSTe all-electric school bus in February, and Director of Transportation Jason Flores says that so far, the bus’ performance is “remarkable.” 

“We are currently experimenting with smaller capacity school-to-home runs, as this first SSTe holds 25 ambulatory students,” Flores says. “We see this bus as being able to serve in elementary service or smaller middle or high school groups being shuttled to events or classes throughout our district or neighboring communities.”

The SSTe can make one round trip of about 65 miles on an activity trip for the district with 20% charge remaining, or on multiple afternoon runs with 40% to 50% charge remaining. Flores says the bus can be charged up to 50% within 90 minutes.

As of press time, a second SSTe was scheduled to be delivered in May prior to the end of the school year, and two more are set for delivery later this year.

Flores says he expects to see significant cost savings from Trans Tech’s SSTe buses: about $10,000 annually per bus in maintenance and operational costs compared to those powered by diesel. (The district operates Type D diesel-powered school buses.) 

For example, a Type D diesel bus in the district’s fleet that is equipped with a diesel particulate filter costs about $52 per day to fuel, whereas the all-electric buses are expected to cost between $16 and $20 per day to operate due to the savings in fuel costs.

Also, Flores says two to three oil changes annually will be eliminated for the SSTe buses, along with routine transmission fluid flushes. Fewer oil changes will result in an annual savings of about $990, while eliminating the need for an air filter, a transmission flush, service for an air dryer and service on a diesel particulate filter will lead to a savings of around $1,075.   

The regenerative braking feature on the SSTe is expected to extend the life of the bus’ brake shoes to 150,000 miles and the life of brake drums to potentially 500,000 miles. A complete brake job for a Type D diesel bus costs around $1,800 every other year, according to Flores.

Flores (left) is pictured with the district’s former director of transportation, John Clements. Clements was instrumental in getting grants for the district to obtain four Trans Tech Bus SSTe school buses. 
Flores (left) is pictured with the district’s former director of transportation, John Clements. Clements was instrumental in getting grants for the district to obtain four Trans Tech Bus SSTe school buses. 

In addition to SSTe all-electric buses and buses equipped with diesel particulate filters, Kings Canyon Unified’s 71-bus fleet comprises those powered by compressed natural gas, and hybrid-electric buses. Flores says the SSTe buses “complement measures we have taken over the years to protect our students’ health and be good stewards of our environment.”

“Our district sits in the richest agricultural region in the world and serves the Kings Canyon National Park, where the largest giant sequoia trees in the world exist, yet we live and work in one of the worst air quality non-attainment regions in the nation,” he adds. “We must do our part to serve as an example fleet.”

To that end, Kings Canyon Unified was scheduled to receive an all-electric school food services delivery truck in May, and Flores says the district plans to play a “significant role” in future electric vehicle deployment and demonstration programs.

For more information about Trans Tech Bus’ SSTe all-electric school bus, visit www.transtechbus.com.

Related Topics: alternative fuels, Blue Bird Corp., CNG, Collins Bus Corp., electric bus, Lion Bus Inc., propane, Thomas Built Buses, Trans Tech Bus

Comments ( 1 )
  • Nicholas

     | about 3 years ago

    Electric is the way to save and be innovative, propane is not very exciting or clean.

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