The following editorial was contributed by Michael Taylor of the Propane Education & Research Council.
New research compiled by the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC) using IHS Polk new vehicle registration data shows school transportation directors and private contractors across the country continue to gravitate toward propane autogas school buses.
The total number of school districts operating propane school buses grew to 840 by the start of 2018, thanks in large part to the fuel helping lower their total cost of ownership and reduce emissions.
Financially, propane provides school districts with the lowest total cost of ownership compared to other fuels. Even as oil prices fluctuate, propane consistently costs less than diesel and gasoline by as much as 50%. But school districts really start to see the savings benefits in their maintenance costs. Propane doesn’t require expensive engine fluids or filters, like diesel buses, to operate safely, cleanly, and quietly. Diesel buses need more oil by volume and require regular diesel particulate filter (DPF) cleanings, increasing preventive maintenance costs and time in the garage.
Propane provides a clean emissions profile compared with diesel and gasoline buses, and its exhaust does not emit any of the known carcinogens that can be harmful to children. The alternative fuel also operates more quietly than diesel buses, allowing drivers to clearly hear noises inside and outside of the bus.
Propane Trending Upwards
In 2017, U.S. school districts registered 2,430 new propane buses, growing the total number currently in operation nationwide to over 15,000. Every weekday, approximately 928,000 students ride to school on a propane school bus.
Additionally, propane school bus registrations have increased by 700% in the last six years, with the addition of 90 new school districts/contractors in 2017 now including propane school buses in their fleet.
Still the Most Popular Alternative Fuel
Not only are more districts switching to propane, but those who have seen the benefits are making repeat purchases. In 2017, more than 57% of school districts with Type C propane buses purchased additional propane buses.
An important factor for many school districts considering the merits of propane is fuel price. Propane allows districts to protect their fuel budgets from the volatility of the oil market. The national average price for a gallon of diesel and gasoline is approaching — or has passed — $3 per gallon this summer, with forecasts predicting even further increases. Propane suppliers can help school districts lock in yearly fuel prices to eliminate price swings, helping to simplify the annual budgeting process.
Propane also reduces toxic tailpipe emissions, which complies with one of the major objectives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Clean Air Standards Act. However, the environmental concerns do not stop at the tailpipe. Both gasoline and diesel contaminate air, water, and soil resources. Furthermore, diesel and gasoline fuel handling, storage, and spillage costs add up over the lifecycle of a vehicle. Propane is non-toxic and is a non-contaminant in its natural state, so these costs are eliminated when operating propane school buses.
Propane infrastructure provides a refueling experience similar to diesel and gasoline, but is potentially safer, because quick-connect nozzles lock securely during refueling, eliminating the possibility of releasing emissions. Fuel spills are eliminated with a closed loop pressurized fuel system, and hazmat cleanup is not a concern.
Furthermore, drivers don’t wear the smell of gasoline or diesel on their clothes.
Several States Now Large Adopters
Including 2017 registrations, 48 states now have propane school buses operating within their borders. Ten states now have more than 500 propane buses. In order of bus registration totals, those states are:
• Texas (2,870)
• California (1,438)
• Oregon (915)
• Pennsylvania (896)
• Wisconsin (656)
• Illinois (631)
• New York (622)
• Minnesota (613)
• Florida (610)
• Ohio (547)
School districts of all sizes are benefiting from propane school buses. Boston Public Schools recently added dozens of the buses to its already large fleet. Currently, the district is running 247 propane buses, which make up about 40% of its fleet. This has greatly reduced emissions in a city that is placing an emphasis on air quality, while also saving the district thousands of dollars per day in reduced fuel and maintenance costs. Labor costs are also reduced in the winter, because propane does not require extra time to warm up, so BPS can reduce its cold start team.
Fulton County (Ga.) Schools added new propane buses to its fleet in 2017. As a result, the district will save $3,500 a year, per bus, in fuel and maintenance costs. Over the 15-year lifetime of the current buses, it expects to save $4.5 million.
Smaller districts like Warren Township School District, in Indianapolis, Indiana, save with propane, too. The district saves at least $1,600 per year on each propane bus compared to diesel, because the district doesn’t need to worry about anti-gelling liquids, electric block heaters, or added maintenance to keep buses warm and running in cold Indiana winters.
For more information on propane school buses, go here.
Michael Taylor is the director of autogas business development for the Propane Education & Research Council. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.