Every child deserves a safe, clean, healthy ride to and from school. It’s generally understood that the best way to provide that ride is not with the dirty diesel buses most adults rode to school in; however, many children around the country are still being transported by diesel buses for lack of affordable options.
As the superintendent of a school serving a tight-knit rural community in Tuscola County, I care deeply about doing what’s right for our students while also being a good steward of taxpayer dollars. How do school leaders across the U.S. thread this seemingly impossible needle? Electric buses are one option, as are compressed natural gas buses.
Another alternative fuel option every rural school district should be aware of is propane autogas.
This year, 100% of our routes will be near-zero-emission propane powered, and they are going to save our rural district substantial taxpayer dollars. We leased six new propane buses and locked in a two-year contract at $1.50 per gallon of propane, which is a 62% savings over our equivalent diesel cost. It makes budgetary planning much easier when we know what our ongoing fuel costs will be. Further savings come from streamlined maintenance on the buses. Propane removes the complexity and cost of after-treatment measures that are required with diesel; since the fuel is so clean, it doesn’t require additional fluids or filters.
Propane — which is classified as a clean energy source — is a recycled, reclaimed, recovered, reprocessed energy product that would go to waste if it were not salvaged from other energy processes. Propane buses eliminate the black smoke that comes out of a diesel tailpipe, and dramatically reduce nitrogen oxides, which are known triggers for issues like asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems.
Georgia State University researchers linked lower-emission bus exhaust to improved academic performance, and a study by West Virginia University showed propane school buses reduce harmful nitrogen oxides by 96% compared with diesel.
Michigan communities in Detroit, Livonia and Waterford have all benefited from their school districts operating propane buses. And the impact on those taxpayers cannot be understated. With districts like ours managing tight budgets, the savings provides the best of both worlds — cleaner air and cost savings.
Another aspect of the benefits of propane buses is practical: refueling. Not only is propane infrastructure the least expensive of any alternative fuel to install and maintain, the footprint for an onsite propane refueling station is very small. It takes just minutes to fuel a propane bus, and their range is up to 400 miles on a single tank.
Propane buses also reduce noise levels. You can have a normal conversation with someone on a propane bus without having to talk over a diesel engine. Our drivers will be able to better concentrate on the roads, and there will be less unsavory noise in our community.
Propane buses are already here, with more than 22,000 operating nationwide, transporting 1.3 million kids to school in 49 states, including more than 500 on Michigan roads. I encourage state school districts and bus contractors to take a vigilant look at propane buses.
Shona Vennevy is district superintendent of Kingston Community School District in Tuscola County, Michigan.