While Mobile County Public Schools has been operating 30 new propane school buses since classes began on Aug. 7, Alabama Lt. Gov. Kay Ivey officially launched the Blue Bird Propane Visions into service for the state's largest school district.
"Propane is cheaper, cleaner, and domestically produced," said Ivey, who took a test ride on one of the new propane buses after the ribbon cutting ceremony. "This is an environmental initiative I can get behind."
That's because the 30 new Blue Bird's will displace about 40,000 gallons of diesel and reduce emissions by 150,000 pounds of carbon dioxide over their life cycle. Mobile County operates a total of about 750 school buses, about 640 of which are on route service to transport 26,000 students.
Pat Mitchell, Mobile County's director of transportation, told STN that the district researched alternative fuels over the past year and a half and found that propane best fit the system after it passed all vehicle emissions and safety requirements and a cost savings analysis. He added that Mobile County is also saving more than $2 per gallon of fuel, spending $1.29 a gallon for the new Blue Bird propane buses compared to $3.40 a gallon for its diesel buses.
"Right off the bat we see a great return," he said.
So far driver feedback has been positive, Mitchell added, as the propane fuel injection system provided by ROUSH CleanTech in unison with the Ford 8.0L V8 engine is "extremely quiet." He said the reduced noise is an additional safety benefit that allows the drivers to hear better during routes, which also affects child safety.
While it's too early to know the effects on maintenance, he said he also expects similar positive results.
The new propane buses also meet Superintendent Martha Peek's "It Starts With Us" initiative that she launched last year to position Mobile County Public Schools as not only the largest district in the state but the leader in implementing new ideas.
"We are pleased to be the very first school system in Alabama to enhance transportation through the use of propane buses," Peek added in a statement. "We have taken this step because we understand the advantages are increased fuel efficiency, economic and environmental."
Mitchell added that he is hopeful the local community responds to propane as positively his drivers have.
"The deployment of our propane autogas bus fleet is a perfect example of our school system's initiative," he explained. "We are providing dependable and clean student transportation while saving taxpayers money so we can put it back in the classroom where it counts most."