Arizona’s largest school district is striving to have the first all-propane bus fleet in the state.
The district’s transportation director, Ron Latko, said the change comes with rising diesel prices and increased emission standards.
“We knew in 2008 that the 2010 emission standards would be hellacious,” he said.
Latko said he wanted to watch and see what vehicles would be offered to address the increased emission standards and what other school districts would do.
But in 2009, the state started cutting school district budgets, even taking money back. Nobody was making any moves in terms of transportation changes. While the bus manufacturers came out with a hybrid, it was almost double the cost of a normal diesel bus, he said.
“I found out they were using propane buses in Texas, 30 years-plus,” he said. “They manufacture propane in Texas. I got into a conversation with a company here that sells propane. It’s not unproven technology.”
Plus, he said 90 percent of the propane in the world is manufactured in the United States. When he compared the cost of a 15-passenger bus he’d purchased in 2009 to an identical 2012 model, he was going to spend $6,400 less.
“There’s savings right there,” he said.
Then there’s the cost to fuel the vehicle. With diesel at $3.54 a gallon, Latko said there is appeal in paying only $1.485 a gallon for propane. Plus, the government gives the district a 50-cent tax break per gallon.
The conversion of the entire fleet will take over a decade, he said. The district has an 18,000-gallon fueling tank that will be used for propane, decreasing costs again.
Because of the district’s efforts, Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett presented an Arizona Clean Air Champion Award to Latko at the 2012 Legislative Breakfast. The event included a display of alternative-fuel vehicles, including a new propane bus from the Mesa district.
It’s a win-win situation, Latko said.
“We have our own propane station,” he said. “There are no emission issues with ADEQ (Arizona Department of Environmental Quality), no spillage issues.”
The district tried compressed natural gas in the past, prior to Latko’s arrival, but he felt propane is a better fit, Latko said.
There is the issue of purchasing the new buses, but the district is looking to raise those funds possibly through bond money or savings from other operational costs, he said.
“We’re the first in the state to go propane. There are districts looking at propane now, and not just here,” he said. “I’m getting calls from districts around the country about this. People are seriously looking at this.”
In fact, the Chandler Unified School District reports it is looking at either propane or compressed natural gas (CNG) when it makes its next big bus purchase, in December 2013. Prior to that, it may purchase special education vehicles that run on propane, according to a district spokesman.
The district does not have any buses running on alternative fuel, but does have 10 support fleet vehicles (such as district trucks) that run on propane and then either gasoline or diesel.
A request to Gilbert Unified School District for information on its vehicle fleet was not immediately answered.
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