You might say propane autogas and school buses go together like peanut butter and jelly. And like all dynamic duos, each side harmonizes with the other to make something even better.
Due to its clean-burning properties and tremendous cost-effectiveness, propane autogas, also called liquefied petroleum gas (LPG), is rapidly gaining popularity with school districts around the country. According to the Propane Education and Research Council, there are already over 12,500 propane school buses currently operating in the United States, and that number is growing by about 10% per year!
To help spread the word about this fuel’s potential benefit to school districts, we hosted back-to-back educational sessions at the Washington Association for Pupil Transportation (WAPT) annual conference in Pasco. Here are some key takeaways:
$avings in every gallon
With school districts often operating on tight budgets, switching to propane is an attractive return on investment. A propane school bus typically costs around $10,000 more than a diesel bus upfront, but the fuel cost-per-gallon averages 50% less than diesel and about 40% less than gasoline. Although a gallon of propane contains about 35% less energy than a gallon of diesel, the lower cost per gallon amounts to savings in every mile driven – money that can be repurposed for what matters most to a school district: educating students.
Propane buses save money on maintenance as well. They don’t require diesel particulate filters, exhaust gas recirculation systems or diesel exhaust fluid. Since propane buses require less oil (about seven quarts per oil change, versus as many as 30 quarts for a diesel engine), regular oil changes can be spaced further apart. Fleets tell us their propane school buses tend to have better uptime and longer lifetimes than their diesel counterparts.
Clearing the air for children and drivers
Propane autogas emits less tailpipe pollution than gasoline or diesel. A recent test by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that a Ford Transit van running on propane emitted 42% less nitrogen oxides (also called NOx), a form of smog, and known lung irritant; 80% less carbon monoxide, a known carcinogen; and 22% less carbon dioxide, the primary source of global warming. And propane almost completely eliminates fine particulate pollution – the main component of black diesel exhaust soot. Nowhere is it more important to reduce air pollution than around children, whose hearts and lungs are still developing and are more at risk to damage from exposure.
We’ve also heard that propane engines run much more quietly than conventional diesel buses, allowing bus drivers to better hear what is happening inside and outside the bus.
Rave reviews from local school districts
No one knows the benefits of propane better than a fleet manager who has already tried it! For that reason, we were thrilled to have three such school bus fleet managers present their districts’ real-life case studies as part of our WAPT sessions: Jay Smith of Snohomish School District, Francis Bagarella of Oak Harbor School District, and Joel Stutheit of Bethel School District. Their presentations provided an invaluable opportunity for other school district fleet managers and decision makers in the audience to take advantage of the experiences of their peers, ask technical questions, and benefit from lessons learned.
Ultimately, all three school districts are highly enthusiastic about their experience so far and plan to expand their use of propane. In fact, Francis Bagarella is in the process of converting his entire fleet over to propane. Jay Smith recently surveyed his bus drivers about whether they would like their diesel buses back. The response? A unanimous “No!”
Excellent local providers at your service
When asked to recall one thing they wished they had known about propane autogas before making the switch, both Joel Stutheit and Jay Smith noted that having a reliable, fair and informative propane provider is key to a successful transition. Our panel included representatives from two propane providers who have excellent reputations and are also long-time Western Washington Clean Cities members: Darren Engle of Blue Star Gas, and Rob Little of Ferrellgas.
But where can you find propane autogas buses available to meet your needs? To answer this question, we had three bus vendors on hand to talk about the technology and options! Marty Middleton of Bryson Bus Sales gave a fascinating retrospective on the evolution of cleaner bus technologies; Sean Connelly of Creative Bus Sales profiled the technology behind the Starcraft propane school bus line; and Jess Henderson of ROUSH CleanTech detailed the technology behind their propane systems for Blue Bird.
Join us next year at WAPT!
We extend our sincere gratitude to each of the presenters who helped us make these back-to-back panel sessions so engaging and informative. With such a successful outcome, we hope to return at next year’s WAPT conference!
Know a school district that is interested in learning more about propane autogas, or have a question for one of our speakers? Send us an email and we’ll be more than happy to help!