Phil Downs, manager of fleet services for Columbus City Schools, is pictured plugging in one of the district’s IC Bus hybrid school buses.
Columbus City Schools
District meets remarkable green goal
Since 2006, Columbus City Schools has made significant progress in reducing emissions from its fleet of buses, installing new technologies and implementing a plan to replace 290 of its oldest buses.
The district began working with Mid-Ohio Regional Council in addition to local environmental groups to figure out the best way to meet its green goals. The process involved not only purchasing new vehicles for the fleet, but retrofitting salvageable models and integrating new equipment as well.
“The schools in our district are going green, even down to the materials they’re using in the newer buildings,” says Phil Downs, manager of fleet services for Columbus City Schools. “So the next step is to work on the school buses so we can give the citizens and children the cleanest environment that we can.”
After rounds of application, several grants were awarded to the district, which helped pay for diesel oxidation catalysts, Zonar GPS, buses with clean-burning engines, buses with engine pre-heaters and hybrid-electric buses. In addition to reducing emissions, Downs says that going green has reduced the overall budget by $300,000, saving in parts and labor.
“The new buses and equipment are really a huge savings for the district,” Downs says, “and when we’re not spending as much, we can feed that money back into the classrooms.”
The district’s buses are equipped with engine pre-heaters, which Downs says help to reduce idling and save on fuel.
Becoming a more efficient facility is high on the priority list for Columbus City Schools’ transportation and fleet services department. Route efficiency is constantly improving with the district’s integration of GPS in its buses, which allows transportation supervisors to actively monitor unnecessary idling.
Idling alerts from the GPS are automatically generated so the district can stay on top of its newly adopted vehicle idle time regulation. The regulation prohibits bus idling at schools and minimizes the amount of idling necessary in cold weather conditions. The regulation applies to district-owned school buses and vehicles, contracted school buses and non-district vehicles making deliveries to schools.
“I saw black smoke coming out of vehicles around town and realized it doesn’t have to be that way,” Downs says. “With the technology out there today, you can remove it. It might take effort, but it can be done.”
Columbus’ fleet team has also strived to be more efficient in their everyday practices. Downs and his staff sample all buses’ oil on a regular basis, which allows them to extend oil changes up to 10,000 miles rather than 4,000 or 5,000.
“It’s exciting — no two days are the same,” Downs says. “We went through a lot of changes. Just a few years ago we were running 1986 buses, and now we’re running 2012 models.”
In 2009, Columbus City Schools’ transportation and fleet services department received the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission Clean Air Award. The team was recognized for proactively installing pollution-reduction technology on more than 100 school buses and replacing more than 137 of the department’s older buses with cleaner ones, giving students a healthier commute.
Now, in 2012, the department has replaced or retrofitted more than 290 buses, exceeding the district’s initial goal.
“The fleet staff is the reason I was able to work here for 34 years,” Downs says. “The dedication they have is second to none. We look to other municipalities around here that have more money than us, but our guys show that we can do it with less.”
— BRITTNI RUBIN
School buses: 545
Alternative fuels used: Hybrid-electric
Students transported daily: 32,140 (twice daily)
Schools served: 244
Transportation staff: 788
Area of service: 200 sq. miles