New Hampshire’s Manchester Transit Authority transitions to propane school buses

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On Thursday, August 13th, Jessica Wilcox, Coordinator for New Hampshire’s (NH) Granite State Clean Cities Coalition (GSCCC), donned a mask and headed to Manchester Transit Authority (MTA) for a very special celebration: A Press Event to celebrate MTA’s latest alternative fuel project.  Here’s what she had to say about the experience:

It was a bright August day, the heat rising in waves off the pavement, as I arrived and was greeted by MTA’s amazing team: Karen Holden, a GSCCC advisory board member and assistant director to school operations, Mike Whitten, executive director and Ryan RenauldSmith, assistant director.

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The anticipation was palpable as press, project partners and attendees gathered to hear more about MTA’s procurement of 14 new propane-fueled school buses and the installation of a propane fueling station. The importance of this project was underscored by the attendance of NH Governor Chris Sununu and Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig. I was pleased to be part of the agenda, joining these officials to celebrate MTA’s recent commitment to powering their school buses with clean propane autogas.

In New Hampshire, the transportation sector is the largest contributor to smog-forming emissions and greenhouse gases. Since 2002, our Coalition of over 140 fleets, businesses, towns and cities, including MTA and their project partners, has been working to improve air quality and reduce petroleum use in transportation by promoting affordable, domestic alternative fuels like propane autogas, which is what we call propane that’s used to fuel vehicles.

School Buses transport our most valuable resource … our children. About 90% of school buses in NH are diesel powered, and, along with other heavy-duty trucks and buses, school buses are one of the largest emitters of Nitrogen Oxide, or “NOx.” NOx contributes to summertime smog and poor ozone air quality days, and for human health, NOx emissions can trigger asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory inflammation. With the impacts of COVID-19, we face a critical need to protect the air going into our lungs.

Propane autogas school buses improve air quality by significantly reducing harmful NOx emissions. In real-world testing, propane buses reduced NOx by 96% compared with today’s “clean diesel” buses. Additionally, diesel exhaust is a Group 1 carcinogen that is especially harmful to children, who breathe faster than adults and whose lungs are not fully developed. This is significant because they’re coming face-to-face with tailpipe emissions every school day while boarding, riding on and exiting from diesel school buses.

Propane buses, which have been trusted for their safety since the 1980s, comply with strict Federal Motor Vehicle safety standards – in fact, Blue Bird, the maker of these propane school buses, requires them to not only pass rigorous crash testing to meet or exceed these safety standards but also equips their bus engine systems with safety devices and automatic shut-off valves.

Propane autogas is a closed-loop system, which means the fuel is never exposed to air and will not spill. Additionally, propane autogas fuel tanks are 20 times more puncture-resistant than typical diesel or gasoline tanks. If the fuel ever did spill, it would simply dissipate into the air rather than pool on the ground like diesel or gasoline.

Cold weather is not a barrier to propane school bus operations as they need less time to warm up and are engineered to start in temperatures as low as 50 degrees below zero (-50 degrees F), while the fuel in their diesel counterparts tends to gel up, requiring the use of costly engine pre-heating systems.

Compared to the clattering of a diesel engine, propane-fueled engines have a much smoother operation. This provides a quieter environment and less distraction to the driver, supporting a safer experience for the students. The driver can be more alert to sounds and signals outside the bus — like emergency vehicles — and can pay closer attention to your children’s needs.

For all of these reasons and more, I’m thrilled to commend Manchester Transit Authority for partnering with Anderson Blue Bird Bus Sales of New England and ROUSH CleanTech, three Coalition Stakeholders working together to replace 14 aging diesel school buses with clean-burning propane autogas, in support of cleaner air for NH.

I’d like to acknowledge the efforts of the NH Department of Environmental Services in collaboration with the Governor’s Office of Strategic Initiatives, the Lead Agency for the Volkswagen (VW) Trust. Last summer, they developed a grant program for propane school buses. MTA submitted an application, and this project was selected to receive $750,000 in VW grant funding. MTA has wisely utilized that funding to procure these buses and has also partnered with another Coalition Stakeholder, Dead River Company, to install an on-site propane fueling station to keep them running efficiently.

Now more than ever, health and safety have got to be our number one priority … MTA’s propane school buses will get our children safely to school, and give them a leg up towards a healthier future!

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