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Why Propane School Buses Are the Fastest-Growing Solution for Student Transportation

Sponsored Article By: Missouri Propane Education and Research Council

MO Propane

Why Propane School Buses Are the Fastest-Growing Solution for Student Transportation

Propane autogas school buses have been in operation for decades as a permanent transportation solution. Today, these reliable platforms make up the fastest growing clean-fuel solution across the nation.

More than 1.3 million students in over 1,000 school districts across the United States ride to school in propane buses every school day. In fact, there are more than 22,000 propane autogas school buses running in 49 states. That number has grown steadily as districts focus on reducing costs and operating cleaner fleets.


Missouri Growth

In the state of Missouri, about 300 propane school buses are currently in operation. Missouri’s Fort Zumwalt has reliably operated propane autogas school buses for over a decade. Kansas City, Independence, Grain Valley, Neosho and others have also replaced diesel buses with propane buses that have reduced emissions and saved money. More Missouri school districts are actively considering implementation of this emission-reducing, cost-saving technology.


Environmental Advantages

Propane school buses are one of the cleanest options available. The ultra-low-carbon fuel reduces harmful tailpipe emissions and particulate matter associated with diesel engines. Propane is a nontoxic, non-carcinogenic and non-corrosive fuel, classified as a non-contaminant by the Environmental Protection Agency and a clean alternative fuel by the Department of Energy.

Missouri students, bus drivers and personnel who ride in propane school buses have significantly reduced exposure to harmful nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, soot and particulate matter. According to a West Virginia University study, propane reduces harmful nitrogen oxide emissions by 96% compared with diesel. As a real-world example, Kansas City Public Schools’ propane buses emit 55,000 fewer pounds of nitrogen oxide emissions and almost 500 fewer pounds of particulate matter each year compared with the diesel buses they replaced.

“The economic, safety and environmental benefits of propane-powered school buses are major selling points,” said Chris Walls, director of transportation for Kansas City Public Schools. “Those benefits made it a simple decision for us to choose propane because everyone wins.”

According to the EPA, exposure to nitrogen oxide exhaust can cause negative health effects in children, including eye, nose, throat and lung irritations, headaches and fatigue. A child riding a school bus fueled by conventional diesel may be exposed to 23 to 46 times the cancer risk considered “significant” by EPA.

Those fumes affect academics, too. A Georgia State University study shows how diesel school bus fumes drive down test scores. The study correlated increased academic performance when children were exposed to lower levels of school bus emissions. Student test scores improved in both math and English.


Budget Benefits

Propane school buses reduce the costs of fuel and maintenance, allowing school districts to spend less on transportation and more for education.

On average, propane autogas costs 50% less than diesel, leaving more dollars for school, not fuel. To meet today’s federal emission standards, a diesel bus has 15 additional parts that need to be maintained. These include diesel particulate filters, manual regeneration and diesel exhaust fluid, and other complex after-treatment devices that aren’t needed on a propane bus.

Kansas City Public Schools has reduced its fuel costs by 60%. Each year the district saves about $500,000 in fuel costs, plus another $55,000 in maintenance costs, by operating propane buses. According to Walls, every dollar saved in transportation goes right back into the classroom for more academic resources for our students.

Independence School District has benefited from reduced bus maintenance. “The technicians say the propane buses have a very straightforward system with the lack of after-treatment and fuel injection systems, and exhaust components that the diesels have,” said Jeff Putnam, fleet supervisor for the district. “Working on the buses is so much cleaner due to the negligible emissions.”

Propane buses have no cold-start issues, which can save both time and money on equipment and staff. Also, this may lead to less two-hour delays due to the inefficient startup of diesel buses in cold weather. Long-distance range and quick warming cabins provide children with a warmer, safer ride to school.

Jeff Schwepker, director of transportation for Fort Zumwalt School District, explained, “The drivers were a little tentative at first. But that dissipated quickly when they realized that the new buses warmed up the cabins quickly, a major plus in our Midwest winter cold. The drivers enjoy driving them.”


Propane Stations

Propane fueling infrastructure costs less than any other transportation energy source — conventional or alternative. Many school districts in Missouri have installed propane stations on-site at low cost with a propane fuel contract. “The fueling station cost us only $9,075 after a $7,400 grant,” said Shawn Brady, director of transportation for Grain Valley School District.

School bus fleets can lock in an annual per-gallon fuel cost for propane autogas so that price and supply remain consistent, allowing for better budgeting.

State and Federal Funding

Since propane is a clean alternative fuel, there are several state and federal incentive programs to encourage adoption, such as grants, fuel excise tax credits and the Diesel Emissions Reduction Act.

Other funding opportunities include the Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean School Bus Program through the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, which provides $2.5 billion to replace existing school buses with clean school buses such as propane, the Volkswagen Environmental Mitigation Trust, and Missouri Propane Education & Research Council school bus incentives.

“Our district made the decision on propane buses to save money,” said Brady. “The environmental impact is an added benefit. We’ve benefitted from much cleaner air and much quieter buses running through neighborhoods. There’s no reason to not make the move into propane now.”

For more information, please contact: Steve Ahrens - President for Missouri Propane Education and Research Council.

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