Lower Merion School District in Ardmore, Pa., operates 58 buses on CNG. Transportation Supervisor Jerry Rineer says that four of his technicians are also tank inspectors. The vehicles’ fuel tanks are required to be inspected every three years or 36,000 miles, or if the bus is involved in a major accident
Beyond maintaining the buses, having a facility that can properly accommodate alternative-fuel vehicles is another component to a safe environment for maintenance and transportation staff.
In the facility at Knight’s operation, he says there’s a tube that technicians hook up to the natural gas buses so that when they’re working on the buses or the buses are going to stay in the shop all night, the gas is dispersed out of the fuel system, and it then dissipates into the air, so it won’t leak into the shop.
“In our shop and in the office areas adjacent to the shop, we included CO, natural gas and carbon monoxide sensors, so if there’s a leak, they detect it, and there’s an audible alarm that goes off,” Rineer says. “The sensors also activate our HVAC system, turning on the blowers, which evacuates the air in the garage, dispersing the gas out and into the air. The garage doors open as well.”
For those operations with propane autogas buses that may not have a shop with a ventilation system, Kissel recommends rolling the vehicle out of the bay and working on it in an open space so that if the work involves exposing the fuel to the air, it has room to disperse.
“Don’t do any work in the shop — like welding — that would cause a spark around the propane tank itself or around the fuel lines,” Kissel adds.
What to consider with fueling stations
Nathan Ediger, autogas sales manager for propane provider Ferrellgas, says that one of the most important factors in installing a fueling station is establishing the proper size and location of the equipment
If a school district or bus company operates alternative-fuel buses and the operation has a refueling station on site, officials say there will typically be barricades around the station to help prevent vehicles from hitting it.
Aside from this, Nathan Ediger, autogas sales manager for Ferrellgas, says that one of the most important factors in installing a propane fueling station is establishing the proper size and location of the equipment. He says that Ferrellgas performs site visits prior to every job to ensure that the company fully understands each school district’s needs, and to view the space provided to accomplish their requests.
“We ask questions about future expansion and traffic patterns throughout the day,” Ediger adds.
Clean Energy Fuels designs, builds, operates and maintains natural gas fueling stations. Corporate Safety Manager James Wright says that basic practices such as ensuring there’s no smoking or sources of ignition around fueling tanks should be followed at all times.
“If an employee suspects a potential leak, an emergency shutdown device should be activated; these are located throughout each Clean Energy fueling station,” he adds.
Blue Bird’s Roselli and Erin Lake, marketing communications manager, say that training is the “cornerstone of a successful transition to operating buses on propane autogas or CNG.”
In addition to training available from its dealers, Blue Bird has a variety of informative videos and tutorials related to propane, including one from fueling system partner ROUSH CleanTech that shows how to properly fuel a propane autogas bus, another that shows the strength and safety of a propane tank, and a third with tips on how to effectively drive a propane bus.
To view these and other videos, visit Blue Bird's website here.
Factors to consider with electric buses
Napa Valley USD’s Ralph Knight says that the battery boxes for electric buses have 300 volts of power when they’re charged, but when the buses are turned off, the power is shut off down to the battery pack, so there’s no charge sitting in a line that could create a safety hazard.
“You always want to check it with a meter before you touch anything and take something apart,” he notes.
In addition, he advises making sure that the power is off before you plug in the bus, and the bus should also be unplugged when it’s off.
“That way both connectors are dead, so you have no power in your hands while you’re plugging it in or unplugging it,” Knight explains.
Training from the manufacturer is also important to help technicians understand how to handle the battery boxes when performing maintenance.