The district purchased the buses before summer break in 2012. They are equipped with Roush CleanTech propane autogas fuel systems and Ford 6.8-liter engines.
A deciding factor in TSC’s decision to adopt propane was the School Transportation Association of Indiana’s idling policy. According to the policy, diesel-fueled buses are prohibited from idling for more than five minutes to reduce emissions. Propane is not subject to idling restrictions.
“Idling laws and effects on student health and safety definitely impacted our decision,” TSC Director of Transportation Kevin Neafie said. “It’s cleaner and safer for our students, and we don’t have to worry about harmful fumes affecting their breathing. That’s definitely a big plus.”
High fuel costs were also a factor in the district’s decision to begin running propane-powered buses.
“Our fuel budget usually takes a big hit with the up and down diesel prices, and we pay anywhere from $3.60 to $4 a gallon for diesel,” Neafie said. “When budgeting fuel, sometimes we’re already in the red by the third quarter.”
He added that before tax credits, his operation pays nearly half the price of diesel for propane, which reduces fuel expenditures by more than 50%. So far, the operation has saved $10,000 on the five Blue Bird buses alone.
McAllister Power Systems, the dealer that sold TSC its propane buses, credited the district $5,000 toward each bus, amounting to $25,000 in upfront savings. The district also received a $52,600 grant from the Indiana Department of Energy, which Neafie said helped the district buy the buses “practically debt-free.”
To help lower infrastructure costs, community members donated time and services to install TSC’s refueling station.
The district plans to use alternative-fuel and infrastructure tax credits through the federal American Taxpayer Relief Act of 2012. TSC qualifies for a credit of up to 30% of the cost of its refueling dispenser and a credit of 50 cents per gallon on propane.
Neafie also noted that the propane buses are performing better than new diesel buses in the district’s fleet. The lower-emission diesel buses have had issues with exhaust gas recirculation implementation, loss of power and burn-off, according to Neafie.
The propane buses also perform well in Indiana’s cold winters, according to the case study. Drivers report that the buses start without issue in cold weather, take significantly less time to warm, and that propane requires no additives or treatments to prevent fuel from gelling in the winter.
The district spends $25,000 a year on winter fuel additives for each of its five diesel fueling stations; Neafie said he believes that reducing these types of expenditures will drive the district to buy more propane buses in the future.