Since 1983, Portland (Ore.) Public Schools has had one the longest-running fleets of school buses powered by propane autogas. The fleet is also becoming one of the largest after contractor First Student placed what Blue Bird Corporation and partner ROUSH CleanTech said was their largest single order of the alternative-fuel buses to date.
This month, First Student is taking delivery of 86 of Blue Bird's next-generation, propane-powered Vision conventional school buses, which the company said are expected to save between $500,000 and $700,000 in fuel and maintenance costs next school year. A Blue Bird spokeswoman said First Student's Portland operation ranks up there in size of Blue Bird propane fleets alongside the likes of Los Angeles Unified School District, Northside ISD in San Antonio, Texas; contractor Student Transportation, Inc.'s nationwide fleet, El Paso (Texas) ISD and Alvin (Texas) ISD.
"Our drivers love the Propane‐Powered Visions for their power and quiet operation, our service technicians love the buses for the clean‐burning engine and parts, transportation management loves these buses for their lower fuel and maintenance costs, and most importantly, the community of Portland loves these buses for the near‐zero particulate emissions," added Mark Elias, area general manager for First Student.Portland was an early adopter first of the conversions and now propane school buses straight from the factory. The district, which currently owns and operates about a 50-50 split between propane- and gasoline-powered buses, received the Propane Exceptional Energy Fleet Award from the Propane Education and Research Council in 2004. Mel Philbrook, Portland's fleet manager, said the new propane buses operated by the district average between 8.5 and 9 mpg compared to between 6 and 7 mpg in the older gasoline models.
"It's a win, win for us," added district spokesman Matt Shelby. "Using propane‐powered buses keeps our fuel costs down and reduces our overall emissions. It really is a no brainer."
Philbrook said the district was currently paying $0.90 per gallon for propane.
Blue Bird has experience with propane autogas school buses since 1977, when it converted gasoline engines to propane systems, several of which Portland still uses in its fleet today, though Philbrook added that the goal is to move to a fullly owned and operated fleet of factory-direct propane over the next several years. Blue Bird, meanwhile, began producing propane buses straight from the factory in 2007 and earlier this year went into production with its next-generation version that offers increased fuel economy and more power and torque than its predecessor.
The next-generation propane Vision is powered by a Ford 6.8‐liter V‐10 engine with 362 horsepower and 457 pounds per foot of torque. First Student's purchase also includes automatic tire chains for inclement weather, on-board digital surveillance cameras and an electronic child reminder system.
Blue Bird and ROUSH said the propane autogas system developed in conjunction with Ford also costs up to 50 percent less per gallon compared to regular diesel. The ROUSH CleanTech dedicated liquid propane autogas fuel system meets EPA and California Air Resources Board standard for reduced carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide and total hydrocarbon emissions, and the propane Vision virtually eliminates particulate matter, the companies added.
"Not only will our propane buses provide significant savings each year in fuel and maintenance costs, Portland’s school children and the broader community will benefit from cleaner, healthier air," said Phil Horlock, president and CEO of Blue Bird.
“More and more students are being transported using this clean burning American‐made fuel,” added Todd Mouw, vice president of sales and marketing for ROUSH CleanTech. “At ROUSH CleanTech, we call it the zero compromise alternative fuel solution because propane autogas has it all — it’s clean,
safe, cost‐effective, reliable, abundant and produced right here in the U.S.”