Black and Green, not Black or Green: The Future of School Bus Fueling

Fleet operators across a broad range of industries are faced with difficult and potentially costly decisions related to how they will fuel their vehicles in the future. The long-life nature of these assets makes the decision on fuel choice one that a fleet manager, transportation director, and the organization an extremely consequential one. 

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School Bus Associations Respond to NTSB Recommendations

National school transportation industry associations issued both supporting and dissenting responses to a recent National Transportation Safety Board report examining two fatal school bus crashes. The report recommended, among other things, crash avoidance systems and lap-shoulder belts on all new large school buses. 

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Webinar Gives Update on State Plans for VW Funding

A free STN webinar provided an overview of the current standing of the VW Mitigation Trust Fund and what student transporters can do to secure funding for cleaner school buses.

Joe Annotti, senior programs manager for Gladstein, Neandross & Associates and a former U.S. EPA executive, explained the current standings of the $2.925 billion that the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund is in charge of during the live event on Thursday.

Annotti said that as of Jan. 30, each U.S. state, as well as Puerto Rico and a coalition of tribal authorities, has now been certified to disseminate funds for clean air projects.

Related: Webinar Shares Updates, Strategies to Secure VW Funding

Beneficiary Mitigation Plans are the next step. These documents are required from each state, and include information such as proposed projects, the NOx they will reduce, what vehicles are eligible, and how the funds will be allocated.

States are required to open up their plans for public comment for a minimum of 30 days. Over 30 states have published implementation plans, and five have submitted a final plan to the Volkswagen Mitigation Trust Fund. Annotti projects that every state would have a draft plan out by this summer 2018.

It should be noted that funds are not rolled out all at once. States can deliver one-third of the funds in the first year, two-thirds by the second year, and the remainder by the end of three years. Some plan to roll out the funds over a 10-year period. “What that plateau means is long-term, sustained opportunity,” Annotti said.

Each state can decide what clean transportation projects to allocate its share of the funding toward, and each state’s plan is different. States can add requirements and restrictions, such as geographical limitations, or allow funds for school bus replacement but exclude charter schools or contractors.

Minnesota is using its $42 million to create five grant programs, including one for school bus replacements. It funds public and private school buses, and provides up to $20,000 per bus. These funds could be available as soon as next week.

Arkansas is focusing on CNG and electric vehicles statewide; 60 percent of its $14.6 million is being directed to CNG school buses, with specific geographic areas being targeted.

California is receiving $422 million and is promoting zero-emissions vehicles where possible, and new-zero technology everywhere else. Some $130 million is going to school, transit and shuttle buses. Student transporters could be reimbursed for up to $400,000 per electric school bus, for “easily the highest incentive figures we’ve seen thus far,” Annotti said.

One attendee questioned the chances of propane in California. Annotti said it was a matter of what state officials decided on for the specific fuel type, but confirmed that California’s focus was zero emissions technology—specifically NOx emissions levels below 0.02 NOx per gb-hr.

That NOx certification is met by the propane school bus engine from ROUSH CleanTech and the L9N natural gas engine from Cummins Westport.

Related: CARB Webinar Shares Clean School Bus Funding, Experiences

Colorado sought stakeholders’ input before developing its plan and received many letters in support of different alternative fuel vehicles.

To be eligible for funds from the Volkswagen settlement, applicants must be using diesel equipment. Along with alternative fuel, states can decide if cleaner diesel is eligible. Oregon, for example, is targeting 450 school buses with cleaner diesel replacements.

However, accessing the funds depends on each state’s plans. For example, said Annotti, applying for a grant involves conducting emissions analysis and assembling a package proposal that specifies the vehicles to replace and requests replacement vehicles. States could alternatively implement a rebate or voucher program that would offer a discount at the time of purchase. However, no RFP has been published, so it is not yet known how states will structure the funding.

“There is no such thing as free money—you’ll have to report” on the vehicle and its usage, cautioned Annotti.

Regardless of condition, the old school bus must be destroyed by cutting a hole in the block and/or slicing the chassis in half.

“It is just a tremendous amount of information to collect and to understand,” Annotti acknowledged.

He encouraged districts and contractors to connect with their state school transportation association and local clean cities departments, for additional information and recommendations on the next steps that are specified by each state guidelines.

With the Volkswagen Settlement Funding Project Competitiveness Calculator that GNA provides, student transporters can input bus type, fuel statistics and zip code, to access a free analysis of what projects they could apply for in their state. Additionally, their VW Funding 360 Portal is a paid service that contains up-to-date information on each state’s procedures and current timeline.

Other free resources are available as well. A VW Beneficiary Mitigation Plan Toolkit published by the National Association of State Energy Officials, contains more information on fuel choices and success stories from operations running cleaner fuels.

The Alternative Fuel and Advanced Vehicle Search from the U.S. Department of Energy releases a listing of most of the cleaner or alternative fuel options that are offered for school buses.

The Advanced Clean Transportation EXPO, held from April 30-May 4, 2018, in Long Beach, Calif., discussed clean school bus options. A session presented in partnership with School Transportation News provided tips for school bus replacement.

A panel at the STN EXPO, which will be held from July 13-18, 2018, in Reno, Nev., will elaborate on the topic of the Volkswagen settlement and what its updated standing could mean for student transporters.

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Chestnut Ridge Transportation Receives Good Samaritan Hospital Medal of Honor

NEW YORK N.Y. — Chestnut Ridge Transportation, a member of the Trans Group family of bus operations, recently served as honoree at Good Samaritan Hospital’s 33rd Annual Spring Ball, receiving the Good Samaritan Hospital Medal of Honor. Fellow honoree Dr. Cary Hirsch received the Sister Joseph Rita Award for Medical Excellence. Thanks in part to the support of Chestnut Ridge Transportation, the event raised nearly $300,000 for the Rockland County-based healthcare provider.