Napa Valley Unified School District recently took delivery of five Thomas Built Buses C2e hybrid school buses, one of which is pictured here in front of the district's headquarters.
Napa Valley Unified School District
Napa Valley, Calif.
Early adoption leads to years’ worth of savings
When it comes to green vehicles, Ralph Knight is undeniably an early adopter. As the transportation director for Napa Valley Unified School District, Knight has pushed his colleagues toward alternative options since the first electric bus was available in California in the late 1990s.
“Our fleet was getting very old and costly, so I decided to take a chance and try new technology,” Knight says. “I was happy to see such improvements within the school bus industry.”
Under Knight’s supervision, the Napa Valley school district eventually replaced close to $10 million worth of equipment using grant money.
“The max funds were $1 million per year, so every year we were replacing older buses with greener buses, five or six at a time,” Knight explains. “We were putting very little district money into the cost; they were essentially free for us.”
Napa Valley continues to expand, fostering a substantial green fleet with everything from hybrid buses to an all-electric bus, which the district plans to purchase. According to Knight, the incorporation of alternatively fueled vehicles has saved the district millions of dollars. His motto is to focus on the long-term benefits rather than a vehicle’s initial cost.
“When gas shot up to over $5 a gallon, I was paying roughly $2 for natural gas,” Knight says. “That was a positive move for us and is what has kept us in business today.”
He also reports to be saving in other areas as well. Maintenance is often cheaper because newer buses have more modern systems, and their fuel efficiency also reduces the overall need for oil changes, for example.
Knight recently purchased and took delivery of five Thomas Built C2e buses. They feature a hybrid-electric drive system added alongside a conventional diesel engine. “They are the first coming to California,” Knight says. “There’s no sense being afraid of them; they’ll do a good job. I don’t see why some people wouldn’t want to get involved with a hybrid system that has proven itself. It’s a win-win.”
Knight doesn’t plan on stopping here either: “I have a lot more green plans on the horizon,” Knight says. “We’re here to give kids the cleanest ride to school that we can.”
He has always been eager to get his hands on the latest equipment, and this trait serves the entire school district well. In addition to assisting students, these hybrid buses are now used for other district affairs, such as transporting people to and from conferences.
As part of his daily routine, Equipment Service Technician Mike Smith checks the tire pressure on a C2e.
Knight has worked in transportation for as long as he can remember. He started at the age of 18, working in Napa Valley as a bus driver. Then, after immersing himself in the industry, he became transportation director in 1996.
He has seen his department grow and attributes a lot of its success to his largely green fleet. “There’s no way to run a transportation department any cheaper both in cost of fuel and cost of maintenance/repair,” Knight says.
To correct possible misconceptions about green vehicles, Knight talks to as many people as he can and hopes other districts will eventually follow his lead. “I just continue to keep stressing to other districts out there that they need to consider alternative fuels,” Knight says. “There are many funding sources out there, and green vehicles have come a long, long way.”
— BRITTNI RUBIN
School buses: 72
Alternative fuels used: Biofuel, CNG, hybrid, electric
Students transported daily: 1,400
Schools served: 23
Transportation staff: 47
Area of service: 360 sq. miles
To read the last edition of Green Fleets Across America, go here.