Eastern Carver County Schools in Minnesota says it saved more than $67,000 during the 2011-2012 school year alone by switching to propane power for its transportation fleet.
Transportation Coordinator John Thomas told School Transportation News that the district chose liquefied propane autogas in response to high diesel fuel prices and a desire to "go green." In 2010, Eastern Carver negotiated the move with Student Transportation of America (STA) during contract extension negotiations. STA owns and operates Positive Connections in nearby Chaska, Minn.
"STA agreed to introduce propane buses into our operation during the normal replacement schedule," Thomas added. "We have a 10-year age limit, and the company does a replacement of about 15-20 buses every two years."
Eastern Carver operates a total of 102 buses that transport 8,000 students a day, 80 percent of the total student population.
During the spring of 2010, STA brought Thomas to Southern California to research a propane system the contractor runs for Los Angeles Unified School District. He said he drove a couple of buses, and the "pick up and go" was noticeable.
"They have a lot of giddyup to them," he added.
But when Eastern Carver started tracking fuel in its first round of 18 propane buses, he said he noticed a couple of buses were getting less mpg than the others. He soon discovered that a few bus drivers were putting the pedal to the floor when taking off from stops in diesel buses and had to be retrained "to relax" and alter their driving habits.
He added that the first 18 propane buses purchased in 2010 were 77-passenger Blue Bird Visions in 2010, for which the district has been reporting fuel performance. Records show that the district saved more than $9,200 from January through May of 2011, the first months tracked. Per the contract, Thomas said STA buys the fuel, but the school district shares 50 percent of any cost that is over $1.40 per gallon for diesel and $0.82 per gallon for propane.
"For the current school year, (the district's transportation operation) saved over $60,000 in fuel. The school district's share is about $25,000," he added.
All told, the propane buses have saved more than $96,000 over the last year and a half.
District data further shows that the average cost of propane was $1.71 per gallon compared to $3.78 per gallon for diesel. Thomas said the cost of propane could have been even less had STA been able to receive a $0.50 federal rebate per gallon, which has since expired after Congress failed to renew it. He also said the district realized an average daily cost savings of $8.09 per the district's 18 propane buses during the 2011-2012 school year.Another 13 Blue Bird Visions will soon be delivered, bringing the total propane fleet to 31 school buses by this coming fall. The final replacement cycle is expected to bring in an additional 15-20 propane Type Cs. The district is also interested in propane for its fleet of 25 Type A small school buses.
Thomas said the contract with STA runs for another two years, and there is one more replacement cycle coming to the district, so he wasn't sure how soon the district can reach its goal of going 100 percent propane.
As for winter driving, Thomas said a high-point of the experiment was parking 14 of the 18 propane buses outside. In January, the temperature dropped as low as minus 20 degrees.
"Not a single one of them had an issue," said Thomas. "And they were not plugged in, either. Also, the driver’s raved about how warm they were before the driver even finished the pre-trip."